Monday, February 29, 2016

Setting Sail for Penzance

Dear February: 

While pleas for "More Cowbell!" are ubiquitous, no one (in the Northern Hemisphere anyway) has ever clamored for "More February!", including I might point out those of us who were actually born in February.  Yet, today, as you do every fourth year, you have festooned an additional day, the calendar equivalent of the vestigial tail, to your derriere.  Really? 

Here is the thing - and I am confident that I am speaking for all sane, right-minded people when I say this:  No one gives a rat's ass about your silly extra day.  Perhaps if we were all pirates and we all lived in Penzance then your 29th  day might be of some import.  We are not.  We do not.  Therefore, it is not. 

Please, without further delay take your leave - and feel free to take that socially awkward tramp Sadie Hawkins with you.  On your way out, would you mind sending in March?  We have all waited more than long enough for his arrival.  Thank you. 

See you in eleven months.

Good riddance, 

Everyone

-AK

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Opiate of the Masses

The Missus and I saw "Spotlight" last night.  Whether it shall win the Academy Award tonight for "Best Picture" I cannot pretend to know.  I know simply that if you want to watch a cast of splendidly-talented actors, including a quartet of my favorites (Liev Schrieber, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, and John Slattery) ply their craft in a well-written film that might well make you angry enough  - if you are a Roman Catholic - to ring the doorbell of your local Diocese and punch the Monsignor in the throat when he opens the door, then spend the $10.00 or so to see it.  It is a film that tells an important story and it tells it extraordinarily well.

As someone whose belief in God, having been substantially weakened on a May morning in 1981 when my fifty-seven-year-old father left our home in a body bag, was eviscerated altogether on a March evening in 1983 when  my fifty-four-year-old mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I have been comfortably beyond the reach of organized religion's tentacles for close to thirty-five years.  Every now and again, however some pompous mother fucker from the Pointy Hat Squad does something to restore my faith in the curative power of the throat punch. 

In case you missed it, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, the Pointy Hat Squad's PIC ("Phony In Charge") of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Missouri, has declared war on the Girl Scouts.  If one could even for a moment question his sincere belief in the correctness of his position when he wrote his February 18, 2016 letter to "Priests, Scout Leaders, and Faithful of the Archdiocese", then some of what is written there could be read as laugh lines.   Sadly, there is little doubt that Pompous Asshole Carlson (he signed the letter "Most Reverend", which when translated from Latin to English is "Pompous Asshole") wrote what he meant and meant what he wrote.  All humor, therefore, is unintentional.  That includes of course the Church's concern about the Girl Scouts' position on homosexual issues, which appears to run contrary to the Church's long-expressed position of implicitly endorsing it only if it involves a grown man forcing himself upon a boy too young or too powerless to consent.  Apropos of nothing, the statement that the Archdiocese of Saint Louis recently posted on its website ("Scouting and the Catholic Church") is a real hoot as well.   

Religion may reign forever as the opiate of the masses.  Out in America's Heartland, the Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson has made it goddamned clear that on his watch it shall not surrender its favored position to cookie-peddling little girls.  

Not even for a box of Thin Mints. 

Can I get an "Amen"? 

-AK   

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Human Condition

Running is as much a human condition as heartbreak is.

This year in the New Jersey Marathon, Gidg and I are going to be joined in our pursuit of insanity by Brooke, who is a fairly recent in-patient admission to the running asylum.  I have little doubt that Brooke - who has thus far handled every distance up through a half-marathon with style and aplomb shall fare well in her maiden voyage.  She is, by all accounts, preparing well and she has an enthusiasm that is not merely palpable but contagious. 

In my role as her Mr. Miogi, when I come across an article that contains information relative to running or marathon preparation I forward it to her to peruse at her convenience.  Yesterday, I came across such a piece, which I shared with her.  The quote at the top of this page comes from that piece and it is a quote that she found while reading through it.  

If you do not run, then perhaps neither the logic nor the sentiment behind those words speaks to you. Perhaps both would if you substituted "running" for an activity in which you engage.  As someone who runs, albeit not very fast and not very well, those ten words ring true to me.  

This weekend for those of us subscribing to a sixteen-week-training plan for the New Jersey Marathon shall include a long run of fourteen miles.  It is from this point forward for the next several weeks that the "long run" is, in fact, a long run.  I look forward to hearing from my second running companera next week about how she made out taking on this distance for the first time.  I have every confidence that she shall come through it just fine.  

She is a Jersey kid after all and Jersey kids are pretty damn tough.  

Just ask the boys from Cobra Kai...



-AK 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Time by the Slice

Twenty-three years ago, as it has this year, the 26th of February fell on a Friday.  In February, 1993, I was in the second semester of my second year at Seton Hall University School of Law.  Margaret and I were engaged but not yet married.  Our wedding day was one week less than four months away. 

I know not presently how Seton Hall Law's full-time day session student body is comprised but more than twenty years ago, the overwhelming majority of my fellow day students were men and women at least a couple of years younger than I was.  They were men and women for whom law school had followed college in an uninterrupted fashion.  For a sizable number of them, law school was an extension of - or a continuation perhaps - their college experience. 

Few people have enjoyed life as a college undergraduate as much as I enjoyed my four years at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  Unlike most of my law school classmates, I had not moved directly to graduate school upon completion of my undergraduate degree.  I graduated from CU in May, 1989 with my B.A. in Political Science and did what a lot of young college graduates with student loans to pay and a degree in an utterly useless major do:  I worked in a profession where my degree was of no moment whatsoever.  I was lucky that in the late 1980's, my older brother Kelly had just formed his own commercial construction company and, luckier still that his liability insurer did not require that I demonstrate a modicum of competency in any construction-related endeavor as a prerequisite to allowing him to hire me.  My job title was "laborer" but my actual job description was "Stand over there and try not to fuck anything up".  It is a testament to his innate ability to build anything that projects on which I worked more than a quarter century ago are still standing and shall continue to do so.

I did not begin law school at Seton Hall until the Fall of 1991.  I recall realizing immediately how little I had missed being a student - after two-plus years away from school - and also thinking how incredibly young so many of my classmates appeared to be.  To their credit, most of them did a far better job than I did of embracing the whole "experience" of law school.  To my way of thinking, graduate school bore no resemblance to college.  Nor was it supposed to bear any resemblance.  It was a place where I was because the rules said that I had to earn a J.D. from an accredited law school in order to be able to attain a license to practice law.  To me, law school was a means to an end.  Nothing more.  

During my first year ("1 L") at Seton Hall Law I became friends with a fellow "outsider" from New York City (by way of Pennsylvania) named Kelly Symons.  She was a Fordham University graduate who had also taken at least a couple of years off after college before entering law school.  She tended to share my state of perpetual bewilderment regarding the exceptionally social nature of our classmates.   A fellow observer if you will.  In our first year of school, but for one class (Legal Research and Writing) our section of approximately one hundred students had every class together, which classes were all taught in the same antiseptic lecture hall - in which we were required to sit in our assigned seats.  

Kelly and I remained friends even after our first year ended and we were treated like actual adults (permitted to attend courses in different rooms).  I cannot recall whether we had any classes together as second years although we might well have been in Tax and Business Associations together (the former of which was taught to me by Patrick Hobbs - a/k/a "the Athletic Director at Rutgers University").  I worked the entire time I attended law school.  During my first two years, I worked twenty hours a week (Monday through Thursday nights from 5 PM to 9 PM and Friday afternoons from 1 PM to 5 PM) at the collection agency in Edison where I had been working, prior to law school, which is where Margaret and I had met.   Thus as if my abject lack of interest in the social aspect of the law school experience was not enough to keep me from participating in it, my work commitment bridged any gap that might have remained.  

I cannot pretend to recall what class (or classes) I had on Fridays in February, 1993.  Nor can I pretend to remember the name of the little pizza joint that used to inhabit a space on the first floor of Penn Station in Newark.  What I do remember is that on Fridays, with our respective academic days completed, Kelly and I used to walk the block and a half from school to Penn Station and, more often than not, bullshit for a quick minute while eating a slice of pizza prior to heading off to our respective weekends.  I would board a NJT Northeast Corridor train to Edison and my job.  Kelly lived in Manhattan (I know not where) and would take the PATH to World Trade Center and, from there, take whatever subway line it was she took to reach her home.  

For whatever reason, when we reached Penn Station on Friday, February 26, 1993, we departed from our usual routine.  We did not stop to grab a slice of pizza.  Instead we simply said our goodbyes and headed to our respective tracks to catch our trains.  It was right around 12:00 PM - probably a few minutes before noon.  

In 1993 I did not own a cell phone.  I had no internet access.  The first time that day that I learned of a bomb being blown up in a vehicle that had been driven into a garage underneath the World Trade Center was when I walked into the office in Edison where I worked.  Details were sketchy.  I immediately thought of my friend, dug out her phone number, and called it.  The phone simply rang and rang.  Periodically over the course of that afternoon, I again attempted to contact her.  Finally, shortly before five o'clock, she answered.  Sounding understandably shaken, Kelly told me that she had learned of the bombing when she exited the subway near her apartment.  The train that took her Uptown was one that she had boarded at the World Trade Center, which had departed from the World Trade Center less than ten minutes before the terrorists detonated their bomb

Had we followed our normal custom and practice on that particular Friday afternoon, she would not have been on the PATH train that enabled her to get in and out of the World Trade Center station five to ten minutes earlier than she otherwise would have been able to do.  Instead, at the moment in time when the shit intersected with the fan, she would have been there.  

On this day, twenty-three years ago, six innocents (John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, and Monica Rodriguez Smith) were murdered in what was one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism ever perpetrated on American soil.  Their names are engraved on the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.   Mr. DiGiovanni was a visitor to the World Trade Center that day.  Ms. Smith was working her final day prior to beginning maternity leave.  She was seven months pregnant with her first child.  


Panel at National September 11 Memorial Honoring
Memory of the victims of February 26, 1993 Bombing
(Photo borrowed from John Quinn ("Q"))


It has been said that in a single moment everything can change.  Never doubt the veracity of those words nor their significance.  

Never forget. 

-AK 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Atticus's Opus

Deciding what words of faux wisdom to inscribe here today, my little corner of Prince Albert's Most Wonderful Creation, had put me in a bit of a conundrum.  I could not decide which of these two lines, both of which were uttered in the aftermath of Donald Trump's annihilation of the Four Hoarse Men of the Apocryphal in Tuesday's Nevada Republican Caucus, appealed to me more - as each is chock full of (presumably) unintentional humor.  

First, the life-size Candidate Ken doll (each is eerily lifelike), Marco Rubio from Florida, who garnered approximately twenty-four percent of the vote in the five-candidate race, offered the observation that Mr. Trump, who earned approximately forty-five percent of the vote on the way to his decisive first-place finish, had "underperformed".  According to Rubio's analysis, since Mitt Romney captured the Nevada Caucus in 2012 with more than fifty percent of the vote, Trump's ability to earn "only" forty-five percent of the vote could reasonably be interpreted as some type of failure or falling short on Trump's behalf.    

As a registered Republican, I am comfortable with Senator Rubio not knowing anything about science.  He is a GOP member of the United States Senate.  Membership in the Flat Earth Society is a prerequisite to securing the party line in any Senatorial election.  His creative math skills, sadly, make his own personal financial travails, which have been well-documented this campaign cycle, much easier to understand.  I too am arithmetically-challenged.  I do, however, have enough understanding of arithmetic to know that when someone finishes in first place in an election and the percentage of votes he received is a figure greater than the combined percentages of the second-place finisher and the third-place finisher, there are any number of things he can be said to have done.  Underperforming is not one of them.  

The other "post-caucus" line whose inherent - and again presumably unintentional - humor brought a smile to my face was uttered by Dr. Ben Carson.  At this juncture, Dr. Carson's motivation for continuing in this race appears motivated by two forces:  Free time and frequent flyer miles.  But for his desire to spend the former by accumulating the latter, no reasonable explanation exists for him continuing to compete for the GOP nomination.  

On Tuesday night, after his fourth-place finish in the Nevada Caucus (his 4.8% of the vote dwarfed John Kasich's 3.6% but was just a bit off of Trump's 45%), Dr. Carson's remarks to his supporters included this golden nugget (see what I did there, dropping a little casino reference?), "I believe that things are starting to happen here."   Old Doctor Ben might be right - although it is hard to envision him, having been the GOP front runner at one point several months ago, being so.  When I hear him say such things I think that he must have had the most beloved bedside manner of any surgeon in the history of medicine.  A "glass half-full" approach to life to be sure.  

At day's end, though, neither of those two pronouncements was the item upon which I stumbled that brought the most joy to the little charcoal briquette in my chest that masquerades as my heart.  It was learning that the late, great Harper Lee, creator of Atticus Finch, Boo Radley, and Scout and author of To Kill A Mockingbird, and Berkeley Breathed, creator of Opus, Steve Dallas, and Bill the Cat and cartoonist/author of Bloom County were pen pals and members of a wonderfully cool mutual admiration society. Mr. Breathed only spoke of it - and only shared the four letters that Ms. Lee had sent to him over the years - after her death.  They are a delight to read...


-AK   




Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Time Better Spent Bangin' on the Bongos

I shoulda learned to play the guitar
I shoulda learned to play them drums
Look at that mama, she's got stickin' in the camera
Man, we could have some fun.
- Dire Straits

I must confess that in the several months he spent (wasted) pursuing the GOP nomination for the office of President of the United States, I paid little attention to Jeb Bush's campaign.  Perhaps that was because it seemed to me to be a notion that was equal parts fanciful and arrogant - the very thought that the American people would elect a third Bush as President - especially when the electorate's recollection of his older brother's time in office remains indelible almost eight years after it ended.  

The one part of Jeb's campaign that I am sorry I paid zero attention to was the use of an exclamation point on his signage and on his posters.  Ain't no excitement quite like manufactured excitement I reckon.  On second thought, perhaps it is not quite the lead-pipe cinch winning formula Jeb! and his advisors apparently believed it would be.  Not for him anyway.  

Now that his campaign "has been suspended" (I do adore the 21st century and the fact that Presidential candidates no longer drop out of the race but instead simply "suspend my campaign"), I would invite anyone who has even a passing interest in such things to spend a few minutes reading this piece from the New York Times.    The answer to the question, "How does one spend $130 Million in less than eight months and end up with nothing at all to show for it?" appears to be, "not very wisely." $84 Million spent on "Positive Advertising"?  If you need any further proof just how well that expenditure did not serve Jeb!'s interests, take another look at the Times' article.  Focus your attention on the photo at the top of the piece, which was taken while Jeb! was speaking at a forum in South Carolina.   Notice the apparent amount of disconnect on the faces of the two women (the one wearing what appears to be a life preserver on top of her "t-shirt by Sharpie" and the one seated to her immediate left - to the right of her in the photo - wearing the blue shirt) and the sign at the feet of Sharpie woman?  Each woman is wearing the expression of a person who is where they are at that moment in time because (a) they are being held at gunpoint; or (b) they called "Heads" and the quarter came up "Tails".  

It turned out that Jeb!'s appeal was only two-dimensional and that the return achieved on his investment in a Presidential campaign was, to be kind, underwhelming.  Weep not for him though.  For it is not as if the $130 Million through which he pissed was his.  

It rarely, if ever, is. 

Money for nothing.  Same as it always was...





-AK 



Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Raising A Flag and So Much More

I do not know what your Tuesday afternoon looks like, but for a member of the senior class at my high school Alma mater, his calendar is booked solid.  

Brendan O'Brien is seventeen years old.  This afternoon, at or about 12 noon, he shall run from the Wardlaw-Hartridge School on 1295 Inman Avenue in Edison, New Jersey to his home in Sayreville, New Jersey.  It is not - by any acceptable definition of the term - an insignificant undertaking.  The route he shall travel between school and his home covers fifteen miles.  

He runs for two reasons, both of which are extraordinarily important.  

First, he selected today as the day on which to complete his "Raise the Flag" Run because it was seventy-one years ago - on this very date - that the United States Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in the Battle of Iwo Jima.   It always make me smile more than just a little when I see a young person with an appreciation for history such as young Brendan possesses.

Notwithstanding the significance attributable to the first reason for which he runs, which is considerable, it pales in comparison as to the second reason's significance.   Young Mr. O'Brien runs today to raise money for the Travis Manion Foundation.  The Foundation is the labor of love of the family of a fallen Marine, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in action in Al Anbar Province in Iraq on April 29, 2007.  In death, 1st Lt. Manion managed to draw enemy fire away from the other members of his patrol, which enabled every member of his patrol to survive.  The United States Marine Corps awarded 1st Lt. Manion the Silver Star and the Bronze Star with Valor.  At the time of his death, 1st Lt. Manion was slightly more than six months shy of his twenty-seventh birthday.

The Travis Manion Foundation is dedicated to assisting this nation's veterans upon their return home and to assisting the families of those men and women who were killed in action.   It is a Foundation whose central organizing precept is five simple and incredibly powerful words, which words are the ones that 1st Lt. Manion uttered aloud immediately prior to leaving for his second, final tour of duty in Iraq.  They are five words to which young Brendan O'Brien adheres and they form a question to which he most assuredly knows the answer...

If Not Me, Then Who... 

It was Emerson who wrote, "So nigh is grandeur to our dust, so near to God is Man, when Duty whispers low, 'Thou must', the Youth replies, 'I can'."   While Emerson's life ended long before Brendan O'Brien's began, doubt not for a second the youth of whom Emerson wrote: 

The 17-year-old who has spent five months studying issues that veterans face upon their return to civilian life for a Capstone research seminar, is running to raise awareness and money for men and women who have served our country.

"I recognize that five months isn't a heck of a lot of time to study an issue, but it was more than enough time for me to learn statistics that are beyond disturbing," he said. "The rate of suicide, unemployment and homelessness among men and women who served in recent years is appalling; I think it is appalling that these brave men and women are not helped more upon their return to civilian life," he added.

This morning, shortly before noon, if you find yourself in the neighborhood of 1295 Inman Avenue in Edison, pause a moment and raise a hand in appreciation for a young man whose fifteen-mile journey shall commence with a police escort as well as under the watchful, loving eye of his mother, Linda, who is, herself, a graduate of the Wardlaw-Hartridge School and a classmate of my sister Kara (Class of '81).  If you want to contribute to this extraordinary young man's effort to raise funds and awareness for this nation's veterans and their families, you may make your contribution here.  

Well done, young Mr. O'Brien...

...and long may you run.



-AK 

Monday, February 22, 2016

McMurtry's First Rule

Well I hadn't intended to bend the rules, 
But whiskey don't make liars, it just makes fools
So I didn't mean to say it,
but I meant what I said.
- James McMurtry

Yesterday was a day of atonement for Yours truly.  After the Mid-Winter Beach Run on Saturday,  I had more fun than I probably should have at the post-race get-together.  It has been said that there is no fool quite like an old fool.  As we say in the trade, the jury remains very much out on that issue. Particularly when the old fool in question has a tendency - when buoyed by the spirit of the old demon alcohol - to imitate Uncle Jim's go-to type of cigarettes, which were unfiltered. 

The worst part of training for a marathon is that it is unforgiving.  That is especially true when it comes to the weekly long run.  Sunday is my "long run" day.  That means whether I feel like running a really long distance, it is a task that must be accomplished.  And yesterday it was.  

Fun?  No.  A teachable moment?  That would be nice.  

At least purgatory has a lot of beauty to admire.

-AK 

17 Avenue Beach 
- Belmar, N.J. 


Shark River Inlet 
(Belmar side)



Waiting on Drawbridge 
Shark River Inlet


Two Suns in Asbury Park 


Asbury Park 










Sunday, February 21, 2016

Have Gavel & Am Willing to Travel

I am as I am; 
Whether hideous or handsome,
depends upon who is made judge.
- Herman Melville

I am terribly excited that on Thursday evening I am being afforded a tremendous opportunity to let my geek flag fly.  It is my great honor and privilege to be one of the professional legal types who shall serve as a judge at Seton Hall University School of Law for the Second Round of the 2016 Eugene Gressman Moot Court Competition.  I have a fond memory of time spent competing in Moot Court when I was in law school, way back when before my whiskers went gray, and I am very much looking forward to hearing the arguments that the students shall offer.

My goal for Thursday night, in addition to arriving on time, is to not do anything that lessens or dampens the experience for the future lawyers who are competing in this year's Competition.  To that end, I have already gone to lengths to acquaint myself with the "cheat sheet" that the Competition's Student Director, Angela Raleigh (Class of '16), has prepared for the judges.  If the arguments that the competitors advance are half as impressive as Ms. Raleigh's work-product, then I am in for one hell of an interesting and educational Thursday night.  Given that Ms. Raleigh is one of the Comments Editors of the Seton Hall Law Review, the high quality of her work was readily predictable. 

My gavel, my bag of walnuts, and I shall be ready.  Now, if everybody would please rise...




-AK 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sand in My Shoes & I Feel Fine

In the interest of full disclosure, it bears pointing out that Saturday, February 20 is not in fact the mid-point of Winter, a fact for which you may feel free to give thanks to whomever or whatever it is you express thanks.  Me, I alternate between Bugs Bunny and Bill Murray but whatever works for you is fine by me.  

But I digress.

The calendar confirms that we have in fact reached the two-third point of the Winter of 2015/2016, in spite of the fact that some asshole has tacked an additional day onto February this year.  F*ck Sadie Hawkins and the horse upon which she made her entrance!  Requests for more cowbell are obsequious.  No one has ever voiced a request for more February.  No one.  

Again, I digress.

Irrespective of the fact that today we find ourselves (mercifully) beyond the mid-point of Winter, it is the day on which one of my favorite annual events is taking place in Manasquan:   The Mid-Winter Beach Run.  




The Beach Run is a lively little two-mile jaunt, a quarter-mile of which is run on the beach itself.  It is an event with a laudable purpose, which is to raise funds for the men and women who volunteer their time and their talents as members of the Manasquan First Aid Squad.  It is also an event that provides a wonderful excuse for good friends who have been hibernating throughout the dregs of Winter to emerge from our respective caves, give ourselves a good stretch, and enjoy the pleasure of one another's company while all the while reminding ourselves that Spring shall soon be here...

...and that Spring shall carry with it the promise of Summer.  

A hell of a nice thing about which to think on any day, especially a Saturday in February.

-AK  


Friday, February 19, 2016

Seven by Fourteen

A tasty little morsel of thought upon which you can chew while you are enjoying the penultimate weekend of February, which in the State of Concrete Gardens shall be marked by some "Hey Kids, Spring is right around the corner!" weather.  

Today is Friday, February 19, 2016.  May 27, 2016, which is also a Friday, is ninety-eight days away. 



Before you ask, May 27th is an important date on the 2016 calendar because it is the Friday that commences Memorial Day weekend.  Fourteen short weeks from today, the Summer of 2016 shall unofficially arrive.  Sure, it will be no doubt be accompanied by a dumb-ass superhero movie or two - as summer usually is - but unless Santa brought you a team of wild horses this past Christmas (and if he did, boy is my brother Bill going to be pissed off - poor guy cannot even get one damn pony ride), you should be able to avoid being forced into your neighborhood cinema.  If others choose to do so, then let them.  Their enjoyment, whether you understand it or not, comes at no cost to you.  

Ninety-eight is an important number.  Well, at least from my admittedly selfish perspective.  To borrow a phrase from the Poet Laureate of Freehold, once Memorial Day weekend rolls around, should you be looking for me, I shall be easily found...

...just follow the smell of the ocean breeze east on Route 138 to Lake Como.  




If you tell me you are coming, I might even save you a Beach Haus or two.  You might want to stop by the brewery yourself, just to be safe.  Tell Matt I sent you.  He will take extraordinarily good care of you.   

-AK 

  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Dipping Ourselves In Magic Waters...



The English language has far too many words for a man of my limited arithmetical skills to count.  I would wager however that there are two that have elicited as much joy in the hearts of those who have ever heard them as any other combination...

Play Ball! 

Beginning this morning at Spring Training sites in Arizona and in Florida, Major League Baseball teams shall start doing precisely that.   

And suddenly, February does not seem as pointless as it might have seemed at this time yesterday.  


"Night Game" - Paul Simon

-AK 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

One Tough Buff

This past weekend it was cold beyond the point of frigid here in the State of Concrete Gardens. Weather cold enough to freeze Cupid's quiver, for certain.  An unpleasant couple of days - even for soft, whiny assholes such as Yours truly whose only exposure to the elements occurs when I move between my car and a building, such as my house, my office, or a specific destination.  A tip of the cap to those who earn a living working in the elements - even when those elements conjure up weather that is indeed not fit for man nor beast - and who keep on keeping on irrespective of the weather. 

Saturday afternoon, as the mercury languished in the single digits, I spent a couple of hours watching the Olympic Trials Marathon from Los Angeles, California.  The top three male runners and the top three female runners shall represent the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio where, much like the Olympians on the swim team, they shall compete on a surface upon which they can run, which is not nearly as exciting for the swimmers as it is for the marathon runners.  

My favorite male marathoner, Meb Keflezighi, finished second among the men.  His second-place finish, in 2:12:20, earned him a spot on his fourth United States Olympic Team.  In May, Meb will turn forty-one.    In 2004 he won the Silver Medal in the Marathon at the Olympics in Athens, Greece.  In 2009, he captured the New York City Marathon.  Tragedy visited the Boston Marathon in 2013.  Meb won Boston in 2014, becoming the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983.    

Kara Goucher, my favorite female marathoner (and not simply because she is a University of Colorado Buffalo, was a three-time national champion running for the Buffs in track-and-field and in cross-country, and her husband, Adam, is also a highly-decorated Buffalo) fell just short in her effort to finish on the podium.  She has battled injuries the past several years and, at age thirty-seven, had put together several months of excellent training.  She ran a terrific, spirited, ballsy race, which was good enough for fourth place.  She missed earning a spot on the Olympic Team by slightly more than a minute.  

Irrespective of what it is you do and the level at which you do it, your ability to control the outcome of your endeavor is far less than your ability to control the effort you put into trying to achieve that outcome.  At day's end, all any of us can do is all that we are capable of doing on that particular day.  Nothing more.  It may not necessarily be enough to enable us to realize our dream.  

Sadly, on a given day it may be just enough to break our heart...


After all, she is powered by the heart of a Buffalo.




-AK   

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Early-Rising Birds & Other Overachievers

For millions of people across the United States, the focal point of February's first Sunday was Super Bowl 50. However, for a much smaller but equally passionate group of approximately 10,000 people, the focal point of the day occurred almost twelve hours before Lady Gaga lent voice to the National Anthem, which performance was to my ear and to my eye pitch-perfect.  

February 7, 2016 was Registration Day for the 2016 Spring Lake Five Mile Run.  This year's edition of the Spring Lake 5 is the fortieth.  It is an event that heralds the beginning of summer at the Shore.  It is an extremely popular race for it is one that - once you participate in it - seems to envelop you and seems to almost command your participation on an annual basis.  

Due to the popularity of the Spring Lake 5, registration for it begins at 5:00 a.m.  You are not required to register an hour or so prior to the first appearance of dawn's ass crack but it is - shall we say - recommended that you do so.  It is advice that I, for one, take to heart.  My running companera, Gidg, is of a like mind.  After all, there is a reason why the expression, "Better safe than sorry" has lasted long enough to breathe in the rarefied air of a cliche.  It contains more than a mere kernel of truth.  

Sad to say that in spite of my adherence to the 5 P's, I was not the first person registered for this year's Spring Lake 5.  However, my 5:05 a.m. registration time was early enough to secure me one of the 10,000 spots in the field.


"Registered:  February 7, 2016 @ 5:05 am EST"


Good thing too.  It turns out that being a pin-up model is not enough to clinch a spot in the field...  


Spring Lake Five Mile Run Official Calendar
January 2016

...not even when you are Mr. January 2016 on the Spring Lake Five Mile Run Calendar.

-AK 


Monday, February 15, 2016

The Increasingly-Slippery Logs of Lincoln

We the people of these United States no longer officially celebrate the birthday of George Washington, which is one week from today, or the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, which was this past Friday.  Instead, we have morphed the birthdays of our nation's metaphorical father and its de facto savior into one homogenized holiday, Presidents' Day, which we celebrate annually on February's third Monday. 

Presidents' Day is the participation ribbon of Federal holidays.  It celebrates nothing other than the fact that a person has attained a particular office.  It is a day on which every President, whether he was a good President, a not-so-good President, or simply a career public servant with good intentions who ended up attaining first the Vice-Presidency and then the Presidency, both of which were positions for which no one ever cast vote on his behalf, gets equal billing.    

Perhaps it is fitting to consider that by this time next year, the current occupant of the Oval Office shall have joined the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Alumni Association, and one of the current crop of candidates actively seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party (Clinton and Sanders) and the Republican Party (Bush, Carson, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, and Trump) shall likely be the American President.  I hedge my bet ("shall likely be") only because Jim Webb, whose pursuit of the Democratic Party's nomination was (a) short-lived; and (b) spectacularly unsuccessful, still might change his mind (or perhaps simply change it again) about launching a second bid for the White House this year - this time as an Independent.   

TANGENT ALERT:  If you are one of the twelve people of the great state of Iowa who voted for former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore in this month's Iowa Caucuses and wonder why I omitted his name from the GOP sextet in the preceding paragraph, then perhaps you missed the news item this past Friday afternoon regarding Gentleman Jim's decision to withdraw from the race.  At least Gilmore will always be able to taunt my state's governor by pointing out that he remained in the race longer than Christie did.

[We now return you to our regularly-scheduled rant, already in progress...]

So have a bit of fun on this Presidents' Day.  I am at the office today enjoying the peace and quiet associated with a Firm holiday but if you are enjoying a work-free Monday, then how about a little game to keep you entertained?  You practice scaring the snot out of yourself by running through the list of the eight remaining combatants (the order in which you do it is of no moment whatsoever) and saying the word "President" coupled with each candidate's last name.  You must say it aloud while standing in front of a mirror so that you can fully appreciate the amount of horror a particular name etches upon your face as you say it.  When you reach Rubio's name, repeat the phrase four times  - or drink four shots, whichever elevates you to a higher level of inner peace.  

A singularly excellent American President, speaking of men, adversity, and power, once observed:




One of the eight candidates still in the race on Presidents' Day 2016 shall be the victor to whom the spoils - and the power - will belong this time next year when the 2017 iteration of this holiday comes around again.  Here is to hoping that the man or the woman who is the Chief to whom we all say "Hail" is up to the task.  Lincoln's test is one that he or she cannot fail.  

For our sake far more than for their own.  

-AK 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Life in Wartime...and Ever After

So let your blue heart open wide
Let's never leave our dreams behind
It would comfort and restore my pride
If you let me be your Valentine...
- Nils Lofgren

Norwood Thomas is a ninety-three-year-old World War II veteran.  On a fateful June morning more than seventy-one years ago, Thomas and his fellow paratroopers in the 101st Airborne were part of the Allied invasion force that acquainted itself with a little piece of paradise known as Normandy, France.  Thomas's European "vacation" was significantly more difficult than anything the good folks at National Lampoon could have conjured up to foil Clark Griswold and his family.  For Thomas and the 101st Airborne, their European tour included not only D-Day but, also, the Battle of the Bulge.  He lived to tell the tale.  He completed every mission. 

Well, almost every mission.  

Prior to dropping into France in the early summer of 1944, Norwood Thomas was billeted in England.  At age twenty-one, he spent more than a little bit of his free time in London.  It was there that he met seventeen-year-old Joyce Durrant.  The two youngsters fell in love and apparently discussed the prospect of their life together after the war.  Sadly, as is sometimes the case with the best-laid plans of mice and men, their "happily ever after" never happened.  They explain it better than I would ever hope to be capable of doing, which is why I recommend that you spend a few minutes reading Mike Hixenbaugh's delightful story on the couple, which originally appeared in the November 10, 2015 edition of The Virginian-Pilot

Fast-forward four months to February, 2016.  This past week, a certain ninety-three-year-old retired member of the 101st Airborne, who served his nation with honor and distinction in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, boarded a plane from which he had zero intention of disembarking until it reached its destination, which was approximately 9,000 miles away.  Norwood Thomas flew from the United States to Australia to reunite with Joyce, his long-lost but never-quite-forgotten love. 

In the seventy years between embraces, each lived a life.  Each married and raised a family. Norwood Thomas is now a widower.  Joyce Morris (she held onto her ex-husband's name) is divorced.   They did not end up spending the past seventy years together, as they very well may have done but for a miscommunication, but they shall spend two weeks together - including this Valentine's Day.  

It has been said - and by countless people far smarter than Yours truly - that Life is what happens while we are busy making plans.  An adage whose accuracy I suppose that Norwood Thomas and Joyce Morris would each acknowledge, perhaps regrettably.  But every now and again Life is something akin to a carousel.  Something that passed you by initially, which you feared was lost to you forever, comes back around again where you can grasp onto it.  

Forever is promised to absolutely no one.  On the other hand, right now - this moment in time - is very much in play and up for grabs.  All you have to do is go get it.  I suppose that Norwood Thomas and Joyce Morris would each acknowledge that as well...

...and embrace it with a passion and affection similar to that with which they embraced one another upon his arrival. 

A lesson for all of us, I suppose.  And one worth learning not only on Valentine's Day but on all the days that shall follow it. 




-AK 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Prophetess Mary Lou & the Breaking of the Rule of Thumb

I am neither a fan of the sequel nor one who tends to write them.  As a rule of thumb, the sequel never fails to disappoint.  Grease 2, really?  

Every now and again, however, something happens that reinforces what my great-grandfather Phineas taught me about the exception functioning as proof of the rule.  Such a thing happened - just this week in fact.  

You are forgiven if you do not recall the fact that approximately six weeks ago, in this very corner of Prince Albert of the Valley's virtual sandbox, I wrote of Navajo Code Talker Dan Klee and his hoped-for return to the house that he and Margaret, his wife, had been forced to vacate six years ago when it became uninhabitable.   Through the extraordinary efforts of the Red Feather Development Group and people who donated time, money, resources, and/or all of the above, one week ago that for which the Klees had hoped became a reality.    

On Saturday, February 6, while countless millions around the United States were making their final preparations for Super Bowl festivities and Marco "Roboto" Rubio was memorizing his now infamous twenty-five second speech Dan and Margaret Klee did something immeasurably more important.  The Klees went home.    

2,200 volunteer hours,  $30,000 in donations, and $50,000 in material = fulfillment of an American Hero's greatest wish.  Dan Klee is ninety-four years old and he is not in the best of health.  How long he and Margaret shall have in the home that he built sixty years ago and in which they raised their children, I would not pretend to know.  And it matters not.  For whether their time there shall be measured in years or merely in days, it is time well-spent.  




Go figure.  Forty-three years later and Mary Lou has yet to be proven wrong.  The dope is that there's still hope.

-AK  



Friday, February 12, 2016

Brothers From Other Mothers

Friday was a damn fine day.  Margaret and I are going to Colorado at the end of March to visit Rob and Jess, which trip coincides with his 30th birthday.  Mr. Springsteen and his brothers in arms from E Street recently added a March 31st stop in Denver.  It was our hope to be able to purchase tickets for the show.  Our faith was rewarded.  Rob made it through the on-line labyrinth and scored four excellent seats.  Thus, our trip to Colorado will include a few hours of "Boss Time". 

On Friday night, Margaret and I were down at our little Paradise by the Sea.  We spent a few hours over at Bar A taking in a performance by the E Street Shuffle, which is celebrating its tenth year together.  We were joined at Bar A by two of my high school classmates, Steve and George, and two friends of theirs, Kevin and Paul.  These four gentlemen - all of whom are roughly my age - have been close friends since they were pre-school-age children.  A lifetime ago, when Steve, George, and I went to W-H together, I had the pleasure of first making the acquaintance of Kevin and of Paul.  I had not seen either of the two of them in more than a quarter-century.  It was as if twenty-five minutes or so had passed and not a moment more. 

By mutual choice, mine and the world's, I am not a person who belongs to groups.  Most of my favorite things to do are solitary things - reading, running, and writing.  If I was an award, I would be the Heisman Trophy - not because of my wild football skills but because of its pose.  It is an award that keeps the world at arm's length.  That is my kind of trophy. 

Although I have never been a man who has been part of a close group of male friends, I admire those who are.  Steve, George, Kevin, and Paul are their own band of brothers.  As they all glimpse "50" growing ever closer on the horizon line, they are - as they have always been - thick as thieves.  I marvel at the depth and the breadth of their bond.  I applaud them for it.

From a distance...

...of course.  

-AK 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Bittersweet Year of the Snake

It's bittersweet
More sweet than bitter
Bitter than sweet
It's a bittersweet surrender.
-Big Head Todd and the Monsters

This past Saturday, on the eve of the Super Bowl, the NFL announced the members of the 2016 Class for enshrinement into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.  Among the nine men to be added to the Hall's roster of football immortals this summer is Ken Stabler.  

As a little boy, I rooted principally for two teams, which were the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins.  The only rationale I can offer for the latter was that my older siblings were fans of the Jets and (as hard as this may be to believe) I enjoyed being a contrarian.  The only other possible explanation I can offer for it is that the Dolphins of the early 70's had a team full of cool nicknames, including Larry "Zonk" Csonka and Eugene "Mercury" Morris.  Apropos of nothing, I find it hilarious to the point of pathetic that Morris allegedly opens a bottle of champagne each NFL season to celebrate the first defeat of the league's last undefeated team.  One would think that a man who spent several years after his career ended in federal prison after he was convicted for cocaine trafficking would appreciate the difference between those things that are important and those that are not.  

I never have rooted for the Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas/San Antonio Raiders.  Back in the day, they were -as were the Pittsburgh Steelers - Miami's principal rivals for supremacy in the AFC.  Even though I was not a fan of his team, I always loved watching Ken Stabler play.  

Perhaps it was the fact that he was left-handed.  Perhaps it was the fact that his nickname was "the Snake".  Perhaps it was the fact that while the quarterbacks for my team (Bob Griese) and the Cowboys (Roger Staubach) both appeared to have plucked from Central Casting for Up With People, Stabler looked every inch of the hard-drinking, riverboat-gambling gunslinger that he was.  He was the epitome of cool.  

Stabler's playing career ended prior to the start of Stuart Scott's career at ESPN.  I know not whether Stabler served as the inspiration for Scott's signature phrase ("As cool as the other side of the pillow") although I suspect that he did not.  Whether he did matters not.  He epitomized it. 

Kenny Stabler died on July 8, 2015.  He was only sixty-nine years old.  I must confess that until I read his obituary, which mentioned the fact that he was not yet a member of the Hall of Fame, I had assumed that he was.  It would have been nice - it seems to me - for him to have been alive when this honor was bestowed upon him.  

In the final few years of his life, Kenny Stabler battled something far more fierce than the Steel Curtain or the No-Name Defense.  He battled colon cancer, which is what killed him.  He also battled the effects of C.T.E. (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the degenerative brain disease that is believed to be a proximate result of repeated blows to the head - such as the blows one absorbs while playing football.  Neuropathologists apparently use a 1 to 4 scale to grade the severity of C.T.E. and the post-mortem testing performed on Stabler's brain revealed that he had "high Stage 3"

This summer, Kenny Stabler's family will gather in Canton, Ohio in celebration of his long-overdue moment in the Hall of Fame's sun.  Perhaps the Lords of Football were waiting for Brett Favre to become eligible for enshrinement so that he and Stabler could join the Hall together.  Their careers were separated by a generation but linked together by that same innate gambler's instinct, which made both of them great players.  

Hall of Fame players, as it turns out.  


"Sea of Hands" - Miami v. Oakland
December 21, 1974

-AK 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What Once Seemed Black and White

From the "Are You Kidding Me"? news desk: 

According to a piece Max Berlinger wrote for the February 3, 2016 Fashion & Style Section of The New York Times and its website, the world is now awash in little boys pretending to be grown-up men by - believe it or not - having their hair colored gray.  

I fear that we have now crossed the Rubicon in terms of "First World" problems.  I am not sure what shall eclipse - or even rival - "an insufficient amount of gray hair" in terms of utter and absolute vacuousness.  I laughed out loud when a stylist to whom Mr. Berlinger spoke informed him that the process can range in cost from $350.00 to $600.00 a session and likened the care required to keep it up - the facade that is - to that associated with caring for a pet.  

Memo to the Millennial Douchebags spending their money on graying themselves:  You embody the old saw about a fool and his money soon being parted.  Grow a set of fully-descended testicles and you just might discover, lo and behold, gray hair has made your acquaintance the old-fashioned way:  Through getting older, through getting married, and through fatherhood.  If you want to really speed the process up, then have a daughter.  In my experience, one is more than adequate to act as a catalyst.  

We cannot possibly be morphing into a nation of detestable, immediate gratification jagoffs who now cannot even await the arrival of gray hair through natural processes.  Can we?  Sadly, it appears as if we can.  Worse yet, a growing number of us already are. 

Pathetic.  

-AK 

         

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Bologna Has A First Name. It's T-E-D-D-Y

Travel back with me if you would to an iconic moment in the annals of American television history. Remember this little, curly-headed sandwich eater, sporting his Oshkosh B'Gosh overalls and his homemade fishing pole? 


As we live and breathe, he and his jingle have transitioned to the 21st Century.  In the latest iteration of the commercial however, it is not Oscar Mayer peddling the bologna.  Instead it is the Canadian Cowboy, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (via Ontario).  

On February 1, 2016, after winning the Iowa Caucus (an accomplishment about which his camp might crow a little less heartily upon consideration of just how well the Republican winner of said Caucus has fared once the campaign advances beyond the foul lines of the Field of Dreams), he had the balls to declare himself to be the champion of first responders.   No need to paraphrase his words when we have them available for review directly from the horse's ass's mouth: 

And to the police officers, the firemen, and the first responders,
the heroes who rushed into burning buildings instead of out of 
burning buildings, the last seven years of having a President, of 
having an Attorney General that demonizes you, that vilifies you,
that sides with the criminals and looters instead of the brave men

I presume that if for no other reason than to preserve the continuing functionality of his church bell-sized testicles, Senator Cruz told that particular lie while he was wearing his asbestos pants.  For other than engaging in the annual self-serving exercise of posting a platitude on his Twitter page each year on September 11, he has not been a champion of first responders.  To the contrary, he has been an impediment.    


Or, to put it another way, in the world of lunch meats, he is the phony bologna.  

-AK  






Monday, February 8, 2016

Memory Lines

I am an enormous fan of spontaneity - as long as I have planned for it accordingly.  A week ago yesterday, I did something spontaneous, which I am glad I did - even if it made Monday feel as if it was the longest day of the year. 

Early in the afternoon on January's final day, the Missus and I were out and about running a number of errands.  While we were out doing our thing, our friend Gidg sent me a text message inquiring about my availability to join her little cabal at that night's stop on Springsteen and the E Street Band's tour, which stop happened to be in Newark.  Although I knew a late night on Sunday night would likely cause me to whine like a baby with a prize inside of his Pampers for at least a day or two, the lure of Springsteen was irresistible.  

Braced by my ninety-minute power nap, which commenced immediately upon our arrival home from our errands, I joined all four Sisters Kizis, Liv (University of Colorado Class of 2020), and Jeff in Newark at 4:00 PM.  We were all the proud possessors of General Admission tickets, which had our numbers been drawn in the lottery that was held shortly after 5:00 PM, would have entitled us to view the concert from "the Pit".  It is an interesting way to see a show, which all of us in our group have experienced on multiple occasions.  It is also an exhausting way in which to watch a show.  If you think that middle-aged Caucasians jockey like NBA power forwards to get position in the five minutes prior to Costco's opening on a weekend morning, then all you need to do is multiply that ferocity by 1000x or so and you almost have an understanding of the way elbows are thrown in the Pit.  

Sadly - or perhaps not so much depending upon your perspective - we were lottery losers, which entitled (sorry "relegated") us to space anywhere on the arena floor other than the Pit.  We started out within one hundred feet of the stage - almost directly in front of Springsteen - but as the people around us crowded in, almost all of us (except for Liv and Pam) sought refuge at the back of the arena floor.  Irrespective of wherever we stood, what we heard and what we saw was extraordinary.  

Among other things, Springsteen is a marvel of conditioning.  He is sixty-six years old and has thus far on this tour led his band of merry men and women through intermission-free concerts that have lasted in excess of three hours.  In Newark, the music started flowing at or about 8:10 PM and did not stop flowing until it was just about 11:30 PM.  At night's end, I felt considerably more worn than any of the musicians, Springsteen included, themselves appeared to be by their hard work.  

Springsteen - when he is touring with the E Street Band - no longer tells the stories that were once a staple of his live shows.  Last Sunday night, while he did not tell a lot of stories, he told two that revealed to those who might not have been familiar with The River and reminded those of us who first made its acquaintance three and one-half decades ago the powerful meaning behind the album's songs.  He set up the record's title track, which is the eleventh and final song on the double-LP's first album, by telling a story about his sister and his brother-in-law and how their struggles served as the template upon which he created the piece's characters.  It is a story that I had heard before - a very long time ago - and both the words he spoke and the inflection in his voice when he spoke them communicated the power behind it and behind the song that it inspired. 

The River is also the album that includes "Independence Day", which has long been among my favorite Springsteen songs.  Prior to performing it, he told the story of how hard it was for him when he was a child - and by extension how hard it might have been for any number of us - to recognize that our parents were not simply our parents.  Rather, each was a person whose life had included dreams, hopes, and aspirations and that their ability to relate to us - their children - was very much influenced by how much each believed that their life, as they were living it, approached the life they had hoped to live.  

At its core, "Independence Day" is a song about fathers and sons.  Better stated, it is a song about father, sons, and the maddeningly complex relationship that can exist between us, the complexity level of which is likely exacerbated by the fact that neither of us probably possesses the tool set required to express our feelings to the other.  It is a song that I heard for the first time in the Fall of 1980, when Dad and I were sharing an existence but were not sharing even an iota of one another's lives.  It is a song that - upon first hearing it - lent a voice to how I felt dealing with (and more often than not, not being able to deal with) my father.  Dad died slightly more than six months after I had heard "Independence Day" for the first time.  I was fourteen.  We very well might have, over time, found our way back to the point where we no longer drew lines in the air marking off our territory.  Perhaps.  He died, however, before any of the already-drawn lines could be erased.  

As I stood on the floor of the Prudential Center two Sunday nights ago listening to Springsteen sing "Independence Day", I smiled.  My relationship with my father was not extraordinary.  Hell, among the Kenny brothers it was not even original but, rather, was simply the third iteration in the series.  More importantly, it was neither a bad thing nor a good thing.  It was simply a thing, which neither defined him then nor defines me now.  It was something that helped shape me, however.  So was he.  

Some lines are simply never intended to be erased for they serve not as boundaries but as reminders - of hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  Ours and someone else's.

They represent something that is simply too important to not remember.



-AK