Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Endless Walk Down That Dark & Dusty Highway

It has been said, "time heals all wounds."  I do not agree.
The wounds remain.  In time, the mind, protecting its sanity,
Covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.  
But it is never gone.
- Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

Thirty-five years ago this morning - when the youngest of WPK, Sr.'s six children was three-plus months past his fourteenth birthday - WPK, Sr. died.  Today, the youngest of his six children is eight-plus months from his fiftieth birthday...at which time he shall enter the decade from which WPK, Sr. failed to emerge.  Ask me again why I run.    

Below is what appeared in this space on this date last year to mark the thirty-fourth anniversary of his death.  

Rose Kennedy was right.

A Toast to Prisoners and Hostages...

Crumpled bits of paper,
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I'm afraid that's all we've got...

It was thirty-four years ago on this very morning that either Kara or Jill entered my bedroom on Wertsville Road in Neshanic Station, ostensibly for the purpose of informing me that our father was dead.  I cannot recall which of my sisters wore the garb of messenger.  I do, however, distinctly remember telling her, "I know."  While I had not yet left my room that morning and I had not yet laid eyes upon him on my parents' bed, I knew he was gone.  

I had known it in fact since the previous evening.  Dad had spent the day in Pennsylvania, opening up the Harvey's Lake house in anticipation for the upcoming Water Ski trip, which was less than two weeks away.  At age fourteen, I was not anywhere near the top of my father's favorite person list. To be fair, at age fifty-seven his name was nowhere to be found on mine either.  In hindsight, I suppose it was our utter lack of a relationship that had compelled him to make the round-trip to Harvey's Lake that Saturday a solo trek.  He no more wanted my company than I wanted his.  

Were I one prone to being awash in sentimentality, right here is where I would drop the "Perhaps if we'd known how little time we had left together..."  I am not.  Therefore I shall not.  I subscribe to the Pete Hamill point of view on the subject, "Sentimentality is always about a lie.  Nostalgia is about real things gone.  Nobody truly mourns a lie."  I make no apology for it.  I am my father's son.  For that, I make no apology either. 

In the almost three-and-one-half decades that have passed since he died, I have developed a far better understanding of WPK, Sr. than I ever possessed during the almost one-and-one-half decades that our time on this planet overlapped.  He was an exceptionally talented teacher.  Of academic subjects, of course, but of life lessons as well.  That is why, I reckon, so many of his former students, men and women who are now no younger than forty-five and some of whom are substantially older than that still speak of him and what each learned from him with fondness.  One who makes an indelible impact on our life remains alive in our memory long after they pass from our day-to-day.  

On this very date thirty-four years ago, which coincidentally was also a Sunday, I knew he was gone because when I had last looked squarely at Dad the night before, his eyes betrayed his fate.  I made a point of doing something that I never did, which was to tell him that I loved him and to give him a hug and a good night kiss on his forehead.  He hugged me too.  He then headed off down the hallway, into his bedroom and into the forever then and there waiting for him.  

Being the excellent teacher that he was, he passed on not only that which should be done but also that which should not be done.  I have tried - as I am confident all of my siblings have also - to hold fast to the former and to avoid the latter.  I am my father's son.  My efforts in that regard have been less than successful.  Far more often than I care to admit, my efforts in that regard have been awful.  

The great Oscar Wilde observed that, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."  Nor can a man live long enough to outlive his past.  Nor should he, I would hope.  We arrive at any particular point in our history by having taken certain, specific steps to get there.  Our past - to a degree - shapes our present.  Our present, in turn, shapes our future.  

I am my father's son.  A fact for which I make no apology.  



-AK 

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Thought for the Day


It is Memorial Day.  This year - as I do every year - I cede this space today to my son, Rob, so that you may have the chance to read and to consider something he wrote close to a decade ago - in the spring of 2008, when he was still a young man working towards the completion of his college education at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  

The sentiment expressed in his words is one worth repeating.  

Thus, it shall be...

Just A Thought
 
I started thinking in this time of war what this day means. It is for those who didn't come back. They didn't come back to their mothers, their wives or their kids. They stormed beaches, fought and died in foreign countries. All that returned was a box and a folded flag.

I recently attended a Springsteen concert in North Carolina. I traveled by plane through this American land because I could, because I am free - and because of the generosity of some good friends. As Springsteen played a song called 
"Last to Die" I got emotional. The song asks, "Who'll be the last to die...." presumably in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It does not matter what you think of the American involvement in these wars. What does matter is that we remember these brave American servicemen and servicewomen.

Meanwhile I am enjoying a Springsteen concert, enjoying a beer and enjoying starting a career with the best government in the world; enjoying freedom. How can I do this? These are my brothers, my peers, guys my age fighting and dying. They volunteered so I didn't have to. They're not coming back to their favorite band, their favorite beer, their families or the state they grew up in.

Their children will not know their fathers. They will know only their sacrifice and some stories their mothers will tell. They sacrificed for someone they will never meet - you and me.

Remember them today.

-RJM



-AK 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Mayor of Simpleton

I opted to work "out of the office" on Friday.  I did not take a day off per se.  When I headed south on Thursdsy night I brought a lot of work with me.  I did not get through all of it but I made a significant dent.  

While i was out and about Friday morning running some errands I found myself siting in northbound traffic on Route 71.  As I glanced to my right, I could see dozens of little children enjoying recess at their elementary school.  I actually rolled the front passenger window in my car down so that I could hear them laughing and playing.  I could not help but wonder if life ever gets any better than it is when we are a little kid, playing tag or soccer or Red Rover at recess. 

Technology and innovation are wondrous things.  To a point.  It seems as if every time I turn around I encounter a parent of a small child whose child's day is overflowing with organized activities, whether music lessons, language classes, or competitive sports.  It all feels as if it is too much. Does a nine-year-old really need a color-coded spreadsheet to keep track of all of his or her appointments?  I sure as hell hope not.  

I loved being a kid and I spent most of my childhood living in the middle of nowhere.  I spent an incredible amount of time by myself, which I loved.  I rode my bike, I went for walks, I read, and when I wanted to play sports I would play the part of both teams simultaneously - while doing the play-by-play.  When we moved to Neahanic Station I was thrilled.   I made friends with my across-the-street neighbor, Doug.  We played Wiffle ball, basketbsll, baseball, and football.  When we wanted to play any of the above with two on a team we recruited Bill and Dave, who lived up the road from us.  No leagues. No officials. No formal structure.  It was terrific. 

I worry that today we - perhaps with the best of intentions - are cheating children out of the chance to be children.  And I think it stinks.  Just because I am a cynical old curmudgeon at fifty does not mean I want a child to emulate me.  I want him or her to be goofy and silly and mesmerized by the world he or she is part of day-to-day.  

The way I once was and the way I wish I could be again.

-AK

Saturday, May 28, 2016

5 and 40 / 40 and 5

Essex-Sussex House in Spring Lake 
(October 24, 2015)

There are not a great many certainties in this life but here is one:  This morning there shall be several thousand more people stationed in front of the Essex-Sussex House in Spring Lake than were there on the overcast Saturday morning in October when I took this photo during my morning run.  On a Saturday morning in late October, Ocean Avenue in front of the Essex-Sussex House is not the place to be seen in Spring Lake.  However, on the Saturday morning  of Memorial Day weekend in May, it is most certainly a happening piece of real estate - being located as it is approximately a few hundred feet beyond the finish line of the Spring Lake Five.

This morning, my running companera Gidg, my law partner Arnold Gerst, and my long-time (and too damn fast for me to keep up with) friend Jerry Della Torre and I shall enjoy the company of approximately 10,000 souls and approximately 20,000 soles in the 40th Annual Spring Lake Five Mile Run.   It is as fun and as good a way to officially begin the unofficial kickoff of Summer as any that comes to my mind.  



-AK 


Friday, May 27, 2016

A Ride to Wash These Sins Off Our Hands...

For a significant number of us, at some point today we shall embark on the beginning of a three-day weekend.  There shall be more people than usual this afternoon and this evening hurrying from Point A to Point B than one might otherwise encounter on a Friday.  Wherever you are going, be careful getting there.  

While it is fairly well-settled, unless you are a Republican in Congress that we the people of these United States (along with our brothers and sisters all over the world) are killing the only planet that we can categorically state is presently suited to support human life, I assure you that we shall not complete Earth's execution by nightfall.  Whether your destination is the mountains, the beach, or someplace altogether different, it shall be there irrespective of the hour of your arrival.  

In an effort to keep today from turning into "Throat-Punch Friday" at my office, I opted to work "out of the office" today, literally and figuratively.  Accompanied by my faithful canine companion, Rosalita, and more than 1,000 pages of documents from an employment discrimination case in which I am involved, my Friday is being spent out-of-doors at our little Paradise by the Sea.  My great, great grandpa Phineas once observed that, "Sometimes, chilling is better than killing."  One sagacious chap, Old G-Squared P.  Advice to which proper attention should be paid, so I am. 

Safe travels to one and all.  Regardless of the traffic on your drive, smile.  

Summer's here...




-AK 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Here's to You, Mr. Roberson...

Professional basketball is a sport that does not hold my interest.  Once upon a lifetime ago, when I was a very little boy, I rooted for JoJo White and his teammates on the Boston Celtics, an affinity that stayed with me through high school, when I did enjoy watching Larry Bird's Celtics and Magic Johnson's Lakers battle annually (or at least it seemed that way) for the NBA Championship.  In the past thirty years, however, I have likely watched fewer than two dozen NBA games from start to finish. 

Predictably, I suppose, I have little to no rooting interest in this year's NBA Final Four - although there is a part of me that always roots for LeBron James.  It stupefies me - with all of the stories about all of the athletes who do really atrocious things to themselves and to others - that the world-at-large does not acknowledge just how well-put together his life is, on court and off, and just how hard he was worked to ensure that it remains so.  I get it - he is not the warmest, fuzziest fellow in the room.  I, for one, do not hold that against him.  Frankly, I care about it not at all.  Not even one little bit.   

My admiration for him does not extend to any real interest for his team, the Cavaliers.  If one looks up the term "long-suffering" in the dictionary, then one discovers not a definition but, instead, a photograph of Cleveland, Ohio.  Be that as it may, whether their hometown hero delivers a championship to them, I care not.  

Nor do I care whether the Golden State Warriors earn themselves a second consecutive NBA title.  I would note, however that if the Warriors do not want to be consigned to the same historical scrap heap as the 2001 Seattle Mariners then they would be well-advised to do so.   That season, the Mariners won a record-tying 116 games, scored the most runs in the majors, allowed the fewest runs in the majors, and boasted - in the person of OF Ichiro Suzuki - the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP.   A funny thing happened to the Mariners, though, on their way to baseball immortality.  They ran into Joe Torre's 3-time defending World Champion Yankees in the American League Championship Series and were annihilated in five games.  

Golden State has spent the past several months basking in the glow of an inordinate amount of "Greatest Team Ever" discussion and debate.  They play tonight - at home in Oakland - in the fifth game of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.  They lose tonight and they will be on the golf course tomorrow.  

To the extent that I care at all which team emerges victorious in the NBA this Spring, I am rooting (if one can even call it that) for Oklahoma City.  My allegiance to the Thunder begins and ends with one player, Andre Roberson.  He was Coach Tad Boyle's first recruit to CU when Coach Boyle got hired to rescue the basketball program in Boulder in 2010.  In Andre's three seasons as a Buff, the hoops team advanced to the NCAA tournament twice.  At the end of his junior year in 2013, he declared his eligibility for the draft.  On draft night, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him - with the #26 pick in the first round and, upon selecting him, traded him to Oklahoma City.  

During his three years in Boulder, Andre Roberson earned the affection and respect of Buff fans - not simply because of his outstanding play on the court - but also because of the way he carried himself off of it and the way he went about his business.  He is an impossibly-easy-to-root-for young man. And this spring, in the NBA playoffs, he has experienced what is sometimes referred to in the business as his coming-out party...  



.
..and for this grizzled old Buff, it represents the all-too-infrequent convergence of a good thing happening to a good person.  One who has worked damn hard to earn it.  

-AK 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Little Ditty About Lukas & Stella...



I am at a loss to think of something that occurs here on our Big Blue Marble that infuriates me more than children being afflicted with diseases and illnesses that threaten their lives and, even, end their lives.  As a man of little to no faith, there are few things to which I can point with more reliability in support of my intertwined arguments, which are (A) There is no God; and (B) If there is a God and he allows this to happen to children, then you can keep him.  I try to remain consistent to the teachings of my great, great grandfather Phineas, who was known for saying, "There ain't no Agnostic quite like a flexible Agnostic." 

Every now and again - or perhaps even less frequently than that - I come across something that both breaks my heart and warms the embers of the little briquette all at once.  Yesterday, such an event occurred.  

Lucas Lowe is twelve years old.  Stella Usiak is also twelve years old.  In addition to sharing age as a common characteristic, each is also battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a disease that has thus far put both of these youngsters through a remarkably similar-looking wringer:  Both were initially diagnosed with their cancer in 2011.  Both went into remission.  Both then relapsed.  Both underwent bone marrow transplants.  Both have spent more time in and out of hospitals than anyone of any age should ever have to spend.  Currently, both are patients at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.  

And one more thing that these two rather extraordinary twelve-year-old warriors have in common: Lucas is in love with Stella and Stella is in love with Lucas.  Do not for a minute underestimate the sincerity or the depth of the affection these two youngsters have for one another.  Case in point, last fall Stella allowed Lucas to shave off her hair, which had just started to grow back after a round of chemotherapy when she learned that he had to undergo another round of chemotherapy and was going to lose all of his hair in the process.  

Give yourself a present today, whether you think you deserve it - and even if you are damn sure that you do not.  Invest a few minutes and get to know these two terrific kids, which you can do courtesy of this piece by Melissa Holmes, WGRZ-TV, Buffalo.  

Little ditty about Lukas and Stella, two American kids done the best that they can...

...and two American kids for whom the thrill of living shall never go away.  

     

-AK 


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Gaining Ground



A bit less than three months ago - when I first had the privilege and the pleasure of being permitted to participate in the 2016 New York City Marathon as a member of Team Stomp The Monster - I promised (OK, threatened) to use this space time and again to keep one and all apprised of how my fundraising effort was progressing.  Today is a day in which I deliver on my promise or - if you prefer - make good on my threat.  

As of today, the generosity of a great many terrific people has enabled me to poke my head past the 50% mark in terms of contributions received.  It is an accomplishment with which I have very little to do.  It is those of you who have dug deep and offered your help to me so that I may in turn offer my help to the good people from Stomp The Monster, Inc. who have had everything in the world to do with it.  

I talk for my living.  I talk too damn much in fact.  Rare is the happening that renders me speechless. This outpouring of extraordinary selflessness has come pretty damn close.  




-AK 

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Expenditure of Precious Time...

It was not the most glorious weekend weather-wise at the beach.  Saturday had a gray pallor for most of the day.  When my alarm went off on Sunday morning, beckoning me to head out for my early-morning run, Mother Nature talked me out of it.  It rained steadily until after 8:30, by which time the Missus and I had moved into the "project completion" potion of our morning.  I ended up getting out to run - but not until close to noon.  It was as gray as it had been the day before but at least it had stopped raining.  After coming close to drowning in the New Jersey Marathon a few weeks back, my enthusiasm for running in the rain - never high to begin with - has waned considerably.  

Still, less than perfect weather notwithstanding, I would not have wanted to be anyplace other than where I was.  I was in the place that brings me peace and was with the person on this planet who I love most of all.  

Time well spent, I would say.  

-AK

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Master Class at the School of Genius


By this time next week, our first official "off-season" as homeowners at the Shore will officially be over.  And truth be told, while I am looking forward to summer days spent sitting on the beach, reading a book and relaxing, there is a part of me that is already looking forward - at least a little bit - to September.  

The uptick in the energy level in and around our little Paradise by the Sea - during the summer - is palpable.  And that energy level, coming as it does accompanied by people spending money in bars, restaurants, and stores, is critically important to a great deal of the men and women who own and operate businesses in this area. 

It is though - for me - the off-season that has me enthusiastically looking forward to the day on which 'NTSG is squarely in my rear-view mirror.  I fully anticipate that the change in latitude shall bring about a change in attitude as well and that anticipation is predicated in large part on how incredibly still and quiet Lake Como is during the off-season.  

As someone who is rarely ever cold, all winter I did not deviate from my custom and practice of walking the three blocks from our house to the 17th Avenue Beach upon my arrival on a Friday night. Far more often than not, there was absolutely no ambient sound - other than the wind and the ocean. None.  That is something to which I grew accustomed very quickly and grew to love with equal alacrity.  

Its time shall come again.  It always does.  Until then, I shall embrace the return of the joyous noise - and hope like Hell that none of it ends up on my front lawn. 



-AK 
    


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Last Stop: Terrapin Station


Chief Petty Officer Albert Hayden returned home, to Mechanicsville, Maryland, in St. Mary's County, earlier this week.  It was a journey that was seventy-five and one-half years in the making.  

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Chief Petty Officer Hayden was serving aboard the USS Oklahoma (BB-37), which was docked on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  He was one of the 429 men (14 Marines and 415 sailors) aboard the Oklahoma who was killed in the Japanese surprise attack.  Chief Petty Officer Hayden was the first person from Maryland killed in World War II.  

Albert Eugene Hayden was born in Mechanicsville, Maryland in 1896.  He was one of four Hayden children, three of whom were boys.  His father, James, died in 1917.  His mother, Emma, died in 1955.  At the time of his death on the Oklahoma, Chief Petty Officer Hayden was forty-four.  A career Navy man, he never married or had any children.   

Hundreds of the men who were killed aboard the Oklahoma, which was struck by nine Japanese torpedoes on that terrible December Sunday morning, were buried as "unknowns" in Hawaii.  It was long feared that none of their identities would ever be known.  However, in 2015, the Department of Defense began using a state-of-the-art forensic lab in Hawaii to test the remains.  Lo and behold, identifications started to be made. 


It is reported that the death of her son broke his mother Emma's heart and that she her dying wish - shared with her family - was that Albert would somehow, someday make it home.  While the family's confidence in the realization of that wish waxed and waned now and again over the course of three-quarters of a century, hope was never abandoned.  A space in the family burial plot was left available for him - just in case.  

On Wednesday, May 18, 2016, Chief Petty Officer Albert Eugene Hayden claimed it.  Seventy-five and one-half years after he gave his life in the service of his country, and after a long, arduous journey, he finally made it home.  

-AK 


Friday, May 20, 2016

I Am the Walrus. My Name is Jimmy Malone.

You wanna know how to get Capone? 
They pull a knife, you pull a gun.
He sends one of yours to the hospital,
You send one of his to the morgue. 
That's the Chicago way. 
- Jimmy Malone

Sean Connery has retired from the movie business.  His influence, however, remains palpable around the globe.  Including, apparently, in China. 

It was slightly less than two weeks ago that two tourists - apparently unable to discern the meaning behind all of the signage placed throughout Yellowstone National Park directing visitors that park rules prohibit them from coming within twenty-five yards of all wildlife and within one hundred yards of wolves and bears - took it upon themselves to "rescue" a baby bison.  Park officials could not successfully reunite the baby bison with his mother or with his herd.  He was shunned.  He apparently became so frantically starved for sustenance and affection that he continually approached people and vehicles.  Eventually, and with regret, Park officials euthanized the baby bison.  His human "helpers" paid a far less severe penalty - a $110 fine for touching wildlife.  

Earlier this week, a story originating in China broke worldwide.  Two men were drowned at the Xixiajou Wildlife Park in the Shandong Province by a walrus.  Apparently, the first man, a tourist, slipped and fell into the walrus's tank.  Presumably believing this unannounced intruder into his space to be a possible playmate, the walrus - who weighs in excess of three thousand pounds - swam over to the man and "hugged" him.  The walrus's keeper - who had worked with the walrus for more than a decade - dived into the tank in an effort to rescue the first man and the walrus "hugged" him too. While hugging his two new friends, the walrus dived down into the depths of the tank, killing the pair.   It has been reported in multiple media outlets just how much this particular walrus enjoys interaction with humans - including but not limited to his keeper.  An attempt, no doubt, to squelch any fears that these two deaths were "payback" for the two humans in Yellowstone having taken the life of a baby bison.  

It has also been reported in multiple media outlets that there is no safety rail or banister to keep tourists (or anyone for that matter) from falling into the walrus's tank. If, in response to this incident, no safety rail or banister is installed at the Xixiajou Wildlife Park's walrus tank, then one might surmise that Social Darwinism is alive and well in China.  

As is, apparently, the Chicago way

Goo, goo g'joob indeed...


-AK 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

9,125


At least now, this part has been done.  There is never going to be closure.
There's just what's right, and justice has been done for Timmy.
We loved Timmy dearly.

I have no firsthand knowledge of what transpired inside of the courtroom of the Hon. Dennis Nieves, J.S.C. at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey, during the trial in the matter of State of New Jersey v. Michelle Lodzinski.  I never set foot inside of Judge Nieves's courtroom during the trial, which means that I did not listen to the testimony of a single witness, I did not see a single trial exhibit, I did not hear a single word of any argument advanced by any of the attorneys, and I did not hear a single ruling that Judge Nieves made.  All I know about the proceedings is what I read, saw, and/or heard through the media.  In all likelihood, you are in the same position as I am. 

Yesterday morning, the jury of seven men and five women returned a verdict of "Guilty" against Ms. Lodzinski.  Seven days short of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the disappearance of five-year-old Timothy Wiltsey, the jury convicted his mother, Michelle Lodzinski, of his murder. The fact that this precious little boy had been murdered had been determined since his skull and other remains were found buried in a marshy area near Raritan Center, which they were slightly less than one year after his mother reported him missing.  There was no mystery surrounding whether he had been murdered.  Rather, the mystery for more than two decades was the identity of his killer.   

9,125 days after Ms. Lodzinski - herself just twenty-three years old at the time - reported Timothy missing, twelve citizens - who had spent eight weeks listening to the evidence during the trial - determined that the State had fulfilled its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the then-young mother had murdered her little boy.  

Presuming the verdict withstands the anticipated appeal, Ms. Lodzinski could receive a life sentence when Judge Nieves sentences her on August 23.  She is now forty-eight years old and the mother of two sons, the older of whom is eighteen and the younger of whom is fourteen.    

One horrible, unconscionable act.  Its first victim was claimed a quarter-century ago.  Yesterday morning, it claimed at least two more victims.  Our job as a parent demands that we be willing to lay down our life for that of our child. It is a job for which it appears that Ms. Lodzinski has been pathologically ill-suited.  

Not once, but thrice. 



-AK   


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Less is Morello

June arrives two weeks from today.  Two weeks.  Memo to my fellow residents of the State of Concrete Gardens:  Put your request in now for Spring 2017.  There shall be no spring this year.  Next stop, Summer.  For those who aspire to perspire!  Your wish shall soon come true.  

Summer is of course full of excellent things.  Among them are two dates in late August at the hideous monstrosity known as Met Life Stadium for Mr. Springsteen and the E Street Band.  Bruce and the band are presently touring Europe.  On this leg of the tour, the playlist has been expanded so that he is no longer playing The River in its entirety.  Instead, songs from the album are being interspersed with a nice cross-section of other songs.  

Here's to hoping that although the set list has expanded, the roster of musicians performing it shall not.  I have zero interest in seeing Tom Morello on stage with Bruce and the band.  If I never see him perform with them again, it will be too soon.  As the great Nils Lofgren has reminded Springteen's fans at every tour stop thus far, the E Street Band has been graced by the presence of one of rock and roll's top-flight guitarists ever since Nils signed on prior to the commencement of the Born in the U.S.A. tour in 1984.  

Starting on August 23 and August 25 - provided that when tickets go on sale this morning, I am able to snag a ticket or two.  Show a little faith, right?

Right. 

-AK

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Cessation of Her Own Brand of Magic

- John Updike

Yesterday afternoon, for the third time in the past eight years, I spent a little bit of time at the Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel in Livingston.  Sadly, it was the second such visit I had made there to pay my respects and to lend support to my partner, Howard, upon the death of a parent. 

Howard's mom, Frances, died in her sleep on Saturday.  Mrs. Brechner was ninety-four years old. Although I have known Howard for close to twenty years, I met his mother but once.  That meeting took place on October 20, 2008 - at the funeral of Howard's dad, Stanley.  I would love to be able to tout a recollection of having said something to Howard's mom more memorable or timeless than, "Sorry for your loss" but I cannot.  I am quite confident that in the brief moment that I spent speaking to her - on a day in which her world likely felt as if it was moving at one million miles per hour - I said nothing less cliched.  

Our brief interaction on that most terrible of days for her did not prevent her from reaching out to me thereafter.  The funeral for Howard's dad had featured Howard and his big brother, Irv, each sharing simple, funny, and heartfelt stories about their father.  They were the type of stories that enabled everyone gathered there that day - on the most somber of occasions - to smile and to laugh.  They were stories that imbued with a bit of humor an event to which humor is not always invited but at which it is almost always appreciated.  As someone whose relationship with my own father was both brief and unspectacular, I was particularly touched by the memories Howard and Irv each shared.  

I was also incredibly impressed by the steely resolve Howard's mom displayed that day.  She delivered the service's first eulogy, which was an extraordinary bit of public speaking.  Her pain was apparent - and not surprising - as she buried her husband slightly more than two months before they were to celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary.  

Mrs. Brechner's poise and grace - as well as that shown by Howard and by Irv - so moved me that I wrote about it.  It was not my intention for any of them to ever read it.  I wrote about it for the same reason that I write about the things about which I write - because it serves as an elixir for my soul.  At some point - several months later if I recall the story correctly - Mrs. Brechner did read what I wrote on October 21, 2008.  She sent me a handwritten letter - the type of document that I typically receive only from the indomitable Joanie K. - complimenting me for the manner in which I wrote what I wrote and thanking me for having written it.  

I smile still at the recollection of receiving that letter, which was mailed to me here at the Firm, for she addressed me as "Mr. Kenny", which seemed both entirely unnecessary and wholly appropriate given the author.  Her letter to me was a magnificent gesture, and proof that there truly is no such thing as a small gesture.  

Yesterday, sitting and listening to first the rabbi and, thereafter, Howard and Irv and their wives, Jill and Nadine, eulogize Mrs. Brechner, I could not help but think that although I have attended my fair share of funerals, few - if any - have been as uplifting and as celebratory as Frances Brechner's.  Hers was indeed a life well-lived, in the company of those who loved her and whom she loved most of all. A reminder, perhaps, of the fact that while death comes for all of us, it is what we do from the moment of our birth until the moment that we draw our final breath that not only defines us but enables those who shall survive us to construct the framework of the memories that shall last them for the rest of their lives.

Frances Brechner lived a long life.  More than that, she lived a three-dimensional life.  It had not only length, but also breadth and depth...

...and a time to every purpose.


 

   

-AK 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sooner is Better

Whether it was the Mayor's decision alone, a decision of the Mayor and the Town Council, or someone else altogether I know not.  I do know that by whomever it was made, the decision to move the 30th Annual Seafood Festival from its traditional home in June to this past weekend was - for my money - genius.  

Last summer the weekend on which the Festival was held was graced by such extraordinary weather that Belmar was overfilled.   Mayor Doherty had to order the police to prevent people from entering town.  Between the couple of hundred thousand folks who had headed to Belmar for the Festival and the scores of others who had come to enjoy the beach, there was simply no room in which to move.   

Yesterday the Missus and I wandered over to the Festival in the early afternoon.  We enjoyed some delicious food and - in a nice surprise - the company of some good friends.  We were walking around when we happened to bump into Tom and Cindy, who were spending their Saturday afternoon in a manner similar to Margaret and me.  

Not that anyone asked for my opinion - nor do I expect that anyone shall - but I hope that in 2017, the   31st Annual Seafood Festival shall follow in its immediate predecessor's footsteps and occupy a space on the calendar in mid-May.  Sometimes something is so good, it is worth repeating.  For me, this most assuredly qualifies.  


-AK

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Unbreachable Chasm Between Pomposity and Humility

Were you relieved to awaken yesterday morning and to discover that in spite of a seismic event that had occurred in Manhattan on Friday morning, the Earth is indeed continuing to rotate on its axis?  

I have never met either of the titular co-hosts (until yesterday morning anyway) of what is - as I understand - sixty minutes of programming that ABC each and every weekday morning after the completion of that morning's installment of Good Morning, America.  Having lived the entirety of my life (save for four years as a shuffling Buffalo) in State of Concrete Gardens, I know that this current iteration of this show is the linear descendant of a local morning program that - once upon a lifetime ago - used to be hosted by Regis Philbin and Cyndy Garvey, who was at one time married to Los Angeles Dodger, Steve "Mr. Forearms" Garvey.  To my knowledge, other than perhaps catching a glimpse of it one morning while on vacation with the Missus as we were gathering up our stuff to head to the beach, I had never seen Ms. Ripa and Mr. Strahan in action.  Whether I die an unfulfilled man or not is not something that shall be dependent upon my viewership of this program.  Of that much I am certain. 

Ms. Ripa raised quite a kerfuffle last month when the news broke that Mr. Strahan was leaving their show to become a full-time member of Good Morning, America - a program I last watched when I was home sick with the flu in the tenth grade.  I was almost prepared to feel badly for her until I read in several places that she is paid $20 Million a year to do a job at which she works one hour a day.  A job for which her commute, by the way, is not exactly trying.  

At the risk of being labeled a "sexist", Kelly Ripa is not the only dilletante for whom I have little sympathy and even less use.  Sam Bradford is a professional football player.  Prior to the 2015 season, the Philadelphia Eagles acquired him in a trade with the St. Louis Rams to be their starting quarterback.  Thus far in his NFL career, which began when the Rams selected him first in the draft several years ago, Bradford has been two things:  often-injured and underwhelming.  In spite of that combination, the Eagles not only traded for him but then signed him to a contract extension pursuant to which they paid him more than $20 Million in guaranteed money.

In this year's NFL draft, the Eagles took a quarterback with their first-round draft pick.  In response, Bradford publicly sulked and then demanded that the Eagles trade him.  Huge surprise that they found no takers.  No one else wants to be stuck with Philadelphia's albatross.

Ripa and Bradford, in addition to being prima donnas, have something else in common.  Both of them - after having their tantrum - returned to their day job.  Neither apologized for their behavior.  As is often the case, those with the deepest-rooted sense of self-entitlement also have the least well-developed sense of self-awareness.

Yesterday,  Alyse Van De Putte received a degree at Drew University's commencement.  She did not attend Drew University.  Her brother, Neil, did.  Tragically, on the morning of July 5, 2015, Neil was killed.  He was an award-winning at Drew, majoring in physics, and he was struck and killed by a speeding police car responding to a call at the Oyster Creek Nuclear Plant.

Neil Van De Putte should have graduated yesterday from Drew.  He could not.  Drew University did something that it rarely does:  It awarded Neil Van De Putte a posthumous degree.  And his sister, Alyse, walked with his classmates and accepted the degree her brother had earned on his behalf.

Alyse Van De Putte was so impacted by her brother's death that - this past summer - she found it difficult to sleep in her bedroom in her family's home because her bedroom is located directly across the hallway from Neil's.  She was so affected by what had happened that she contemplated not beginning the graduate program at Drexel University into which she had been accepted.  She persevered.  And she did what needed to be done.  She has now completed the first year of her program.

And yesterday in spite of the hole in her heart and the tears in her eyes, she showed up yet again.

And she persevered.

-AK

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Better Mousetrap?

So you go to work just to watch some jerk
Pick up the perks you were in line to get.
And the guy that hired you just got fired,
Your job's expired, they just ain't told you yet.
- John Hiatt

If you are one of the thousands of young men and women in these United States (including my kick-ass niece Simone) who (a) is currently enrolled in an accredited law school; or (b) has just earned your J.D., and is planning to spend the first two-thirds of your summer studying for the Bar Exam, before setting out to make your mark in the legal profession, then news that broke this week is something to which you might want to pay more than a mere modicum of attention.  

BakerHostetler, which is one of this nation's largest law firms and has been in the business of law for one hundred years,  announced this week that it shall be the first law firm to license an Artificial Intelligence product to perform legal research.  According to this story, the firm shall license ROSS Intelligence in its bankruptcy practice.  ROSS Intelligence utilizes IBM's Watson technology and is designed to get smarter as it gets used.  Andrew Arruda, a co-founder of ROSS, has described it as, "the world's first artificially intelligent attorney.  ROSS is trained to read the law, understand the type of questions that lawyers might ask one another, and get smarter the more lawyers use it." 

Up until learning of its existence, I had spent two decades-plus believing that I am the world's first artificially intelligent attorney.  Who know that - in this instance at least - faux and artificial have dissimilar meanings? 

Cheer up, young barristers.  Regardless of how much smarter ROSS is than you are - and he is - there are certain voids that grizzled, veteran, senior lawyers revel in making young associates fill that ROSS will never be able to perform as well as you.  He is after all still just a machine.  So, he cannot swing a softball bat or shoot a basketball, which means that he can never surpass your contribution to your firm's Summer League softball team or its Winter League hoops team.  Neither can he express dismay, anger, rage, or despair when being told at 5:14 PM on a Friday afternoon that his weekend plans need to be cancelled because this "urgent" (legalese for "has been on my desk for some time and I have had no goddamn idea what to do with it") project must be completed in time for a 10:00 AM conference call Monday with the client.  

Of course, just to be ever vigilant in the area of self-preservation, spilling a bottle of water on him or unplugging him every now and again might not be a bad action plan.  Think of it as a "belt and suspenders" approach. 

And if all else fails, you can always take Mr. Hiatt's advice.  Take the afternoon off in order to go and buy yourself a brand new set of wheels...




-AK 




Friday, May 13, 2016

At Watch's End

Once upon a lifetime ago, when I was a young, brash asshole and had not yet blossomed into the middle-aged, curmudgeonly asshole I presently am, I had a rather cavalier disregard about the livelihood of others.  By that I mean, unless the person suddenly being separated from his or her position was a member of my household, a member of my family, or both, I lost precious little sleep worrying about the impact that a "changed employment situation" (there is no one alive who can spin a euphemism quite like a lawyer who is a Republican, eh?) on an individual.  Thankfully, while I am still an asshole, I am no longer an asshole who ignores the consequences of such an occurrence or fails to appreciate them. 

At 5:59 P.M. on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, the Lake Como, New Jersey Police Department ceased to exist.  Our little town is plagued by a problem that many towns of varying sizes all across America are also plagued by:  Too few dollars chasing too many obligations.   In 2010, New Jersey adopted a 2% cap on property tax levies a municipality is permitted to impose.  In other words, if a town wants to raise its property tax rate by more than 2%, the proposal must be submitted to the townspeople for a vote.  The 2016 budget in Lake Como, as per the Council and the Mayor, as initially drafted (and including our fully-staffed Police Department) would have placed the Borough approximately $650,000 above the 2% cap.  


Effective 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, our little Paradise by the Sea is now policed by the officers of the Belmar Police Department, in whom I have every confidence.  It does not make me feel any less badly for the officers of the Lake Como Police Department who, through no fault of their own - or of anyone's for that matter - went home on Wednesday night after work without a job to which they could return on Thursday morning.  

If only we lived in McKinney, Texas, then we would all have first-world problems to occupy us - such as how many season tickets to purchase in the new high school football stadium that is being built for $62.8 Million.  

-AK 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Still Recall Central Park in Fall...

The Gospel According to Ferris...


Certain things make me really feel my age.  This is, after all, the season for graduations from educational institutions of all levels.  It was less than one week ago that the Class of 2016 tossed their caps in the air on Folsom Field, which made them the twenty-seventh such group to do so since my class tossed ours into the air at our graduation.  I made damn sure to retrieve mine, by the way.  The whole ensemble was a rental and I was not getting stuck paying for a lost cap. 

I came across an item the other morning while reading the on-line version of The New York Times regarding the lengths to which the City of Chicago shall go to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ferris Bueller's Day Off.   Matthew Broderick getting older does not bother me in the least.  He and his wife have children for crying out loud.  He could not be a teenage delinquent for the rest of his life, could he?  

But Ferris Bueller turning thirty is an entirely different thing altogether.  Thirty is an age that most of us associate with being an adult.  Ferris Bueller is many things.  An adult is most assuredly not one of them.  

A cultural icon in whose honor a three-day festival devoted to his longstanding principle, "Leisure Rules!", is being held from May 20 through May 22, is something that fits far more cozily in the Bueller wheelhouse.   

Thirty years already?  Proof perhaps, after all, of the speed at which life moves. 




-AK 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Weightlessness

The road is long 
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother...
- The Hollies

In 2007, Thomas "Randy" Gatewood disappeared.  His family, including but not limited to his younger brother Gene in San Diego, California, tried everything they could think of to locate him.  Their best efforts unearthed no leads.  Their attempts to find him went unfulfilled.  One day he was alive and well and living in Yuma, Arizona.  The next?  No one in the Gatewood family knew.   Gene Gatewood - having suddenly lost contact with his big brother (two years his senior) with whom he had always been close and with close to a decade's worth of police investigation by the Yuma, Arizona PD and the San Diego, California PD having turned up nothing - feared the worst.  

Thomas "Randy" Gatewood is, now, seventy-nine years old.  He is a retiree, a veteran of the United States Air Force, and suffers from dementia.  Apparently, at some time in 2011 he and another elderly gentleman were left abandoned at a hotel by their caregiver, an individual with an impeccable sense of irony and a negligible appreciation of the value of human life.  The two men were found and were taken to Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, California, where Thomas Gatewood was admitted as a patient.    

National City, California is seven miles from San Diego, California.  

Seven miles.  

The next time you think to yourself about just how small the world can feel sometimes, consider that Thomas Gatewood - at a time in his life when he was less than ten miles from his family - was totally alone in the world.  All of that changed this year.  Beginning with an event put on by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office  - "Identify the Missing Day" - which was held on March 19, 2016, Gene Gatewood and his daughter, Kari, ended up being reunited with Thomas.  Through the forensic marvel that is DNA and the timeless classic forensic tool that is old-school gumshoe police work (performed by National City Police Detective Leiderson Zeiferino), Thomas Gatewood was found.  

The worst fears of Gene Gatewood?  Happily, they were not realized.  When Gene and his big brother were finally together again for the first time in close to a decade, tears were shed.  But they were not tears of sadness and Gene's eyes were not fountains of sorrow.  

Every once in a while a day comes along that offers you an opportunity to bask in the glow of a happy ending.  Today is such a day.  

-AK   

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Contacting the Depths of Truth

Your days are short here;
this is the last of your springs.
And now in the serenity and quiet of this lovely place,
touch the depths of truth, feel the hem of Heaven.
You will go away with old, good friends.
And don't forget when you leave
Why you came. 
- Adlai Stevenson

It took almost until the middle of the day on Sunday but finally, after what had felt like an interminably long period of time under which to live beneath a moss-covered blanket, the sun reacquainted itself with the State of Concrete Gardens.  Strictly from a meteorological perspective, the weekend as a whole might not have been a keeper but in every other important way it most certainly was. 

The younger adult offspring's professional responsibilities require him to travel out of his time zone on an infrequent basis.  As luck would have it, they have placed him squarely in the state of his birth for at least a couple of weeks, which meant that for the first time since 2008, he spent Mother's Day with Margaret.  

Gun-metal gray skies be damned, the Missus and I headed to our little Paradise by the Sea on Saturday afternoon in advance of a planned rendezvous with Rob and with Suzanne and Ryan.  For him, Saturday marked the first time that he had the chance to see firsthand the home on which I pissed away his inheritance.  For Suzanne and Ryan, it was the first time they had seen it since last September, which meant that what they saw on Saturday bore scant resemblance to that which they had seen then.  It was also their new puppy's maiden voyage and, presuming the people at the shelter from which they rescued Leo are close to being right about his age, he was still (to borrow a phrase from the Poet Laureate of Freehold) "just around the corner to the light of day" the last time his human traveling companions were there.  

The five of us enjoyed dinner Saturday night in a nice little joint on Main Street in Belmar, Waves on Main, with Denise and Joe.  Had Jess been able to scare up a flight east to join her husband, we would have a complete octet.  As it was, we soldiered on without her.  Later on Saturday night, the five of us ambled over to Avon-by-the-Sea to see a little live music, where we had the pleasure of spending time with a long-time friend of mine, George, and George's wife, Mel.  

Sunday morning I enjoyed my first post-marathon run.  I had forgotten how much fun it is to run when you are simply running and not "training" for a specific long-distance event.  I loafed my way through approximately six miles and felt great doing it.  Truth be told, my legs were a bit stiff after having not run at all in seven days and it took about two miles to shake off the cobwebs altogether but I really could not have cared less.  I saw the sun coming up over the Atlantic Ocean and my time was my own.  As good a way to spend a Sunday morning as any of which I am aware.  

And best of all was that Margaret spent Sunday in what is - for her - the best possible way to spend a Sunday - or any day of the week that ends in "d-a-y" for that matter.  And the fact that it was Mother's Day and she spent it in the company of the two adults who call her "Mom" undoubtedly catapulted Sunday to the top of Margaret's "Best Day of 2016" list.  I am just happy that I was there to see her enjoy it.  

I know not whoever first coined the phrase "Happy wife, happy life" but whoever she was, she certainly knew of which she spoke.  

-AK  

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Farewell To Superman


Frank Levingston 
November 13, 1905 - 
May 3, 2006

If you are unfamiliar with Frank Levingston, I promise that you shall receive no grief from me.  I was wholly ignorant of this nation's oldest living World War II veteran until I read a news report last Thursday regarding his death on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.  He was one hundred and ten years old.  

Frank Levingston was one of seven children and both of his parents died when he was still just a young man.  At age thirty-seven, he enlisted in the United States Army in October, 1942, less than one year after the Empire of Japan announced its declaration of war on the United States by annihilating our Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  He served as a Private and was part of the Allied Invasion of Italy, which lasted from September, 1943 until January, 1944.  When his service to this nation was completed in 1945, he received an honorable discharge.  He returned home to Louisiana, joined a union and worked as a specialist in cement finishing.  

In December, 2015 - shortly after his 110th birthday, he flew to Washington, D.C. where he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Memorial on Pearl Harbor Day and a tour of the White House.  President Barack Obama is the nineteenth - and final - President who has called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home during Frank Levingston's lifetime.  If you choose to draw an inference from the fact that his birthday falls less than one week after we shall elect a new President in November, I shall not stop you.   

Frank Levingston never married.  He never fathered any children but he was vigilant in the manner in which he cared for the children of his sisters and brothers.  If you choose to draw an inference from the fact that a never-married man with no children lived a life that spanned slightly more than eleven decades, once again, I shall not stop you. 

When he celebrated his 110th birthday in November, 2015, he was asked what advice he would give to younger generations.  His answer?  "Be honest.  That's about all I can tell you."  

Pretty damn good advice, I would say.  But then again, what else would one expect from a Supercentenarian?  

-AK 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Twice Blessed

As someone who is an utterly irredeemable asshole, it is a bit of good fortune to which I have absolutely no right that I have spent close to a half-century on this planet bathed in and blessed by the love of my mother, the indomitable Joanie K.  




I am a man of many faults, the blame for which rests exclusively with the fellow whose gaze meets my own in the bathroom mirror each morning in the wee small hours.  I am also a man who was afforded an opportunity to cobble my limited skills together and to make something for myself in this world, the credit for which rests exclusively with Mom.  Without exception she is the bravest person I have ever known.  She is my hero.




Incredibly, and again without having done a damn thing to deserve it, I have been also had the good fortune to have spent the past quarter-century or so bathed in and blessed by the love of my wife, Margaret, herself an extraordinary woman and mother.  She is my sanity.  She is my peace. 






I am an irredeemable asshole.  I am not a fool.  I know just how lucky I am.  If you are similarly blessed, even if you are not nearly the irredeemable asshole that I am, then never forget to let who have blessed you with such good fortune know just what they mean to you.  Not just today, but every day.  




Happy Mother's Day.

-AK