Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Simple Man's Lucky Draw

It is fortunate for me, I suppose, as this year bids us farewell that I am a simple man.  Not so simple as to see the world in shades of black and white.  I said "simple", not "simpleton" after all.  Simple though in the sense that the world is - for me - occupied by three separate and distinct groups of people. 

The largest of the three groups is populated by most of the planet.  It is comprised of people towards whom I am entirely apathetic.  I spend very little time (and if I was a better person I suppose I would spend none at all) wishing anyone else ill.  That being said, I cannot and do not pretend to have a rooting interest in all of the world's inhabitants.  I root neither for them nor against them.  Their existence is to me - as I presume and as I strive to make my continuing existence to them - a non-issue.  I do not now subscribe to - nor have I ever subscribed to - the theory that strangers are merely friends I have not met yet.  Rather, I do what I can to keep the world at arm's length, which arrangement has served me well and, truth be told, has not yet engendered a complaint from the world in more than a half-century!  

The second group is significantly smaller than the first, and its existence is directly related to the even smaller third group.  The second group is comprised of those who have consciously and willfully injured someone who I love.  I care little about those who take a direct shot at me.  Being soulless makes the absorption of such blows essentially painless, which is why I pride myself on the fact that as I have aged - and have spent less and less time attempting to consume my body weight in alcohol - my ability to allow such a direct attack to pass without comment has improved markedly.  That being said, an unwarranted attack on someone I love most of all on this planet (Spoiler Alert: The Third Group) unleashes my inner wolverine.  Here, too, being soulless is a wonderful tool to possess.  I am an irredeemable, unrepentant asshole, which makes me an excellent finisher.

My third and final group of fellow Earth inhabitants is comprised of those people who I love most of all.  In this group, first and foremost, is my wife.  Margaret is the great miracle of my life because, unlike me, she possesses a beautiful heart and a glorious soul and, unlike me, she is not an irredeemable, unrepentant asshole.  She is, in fact, the opposite.  It makes her a bit more prone to feeling the slings and arrows when someone wrongs her.  We live in a world where people hang the word "sensitive" on another as if it is a millstone.  It is not and it should not be viewed as such.  My wife is a sensitive soul, which is one of her many gifts.  

One of my favorite "more-recent" songs in Springsteen's catalog is Land of Hope and Dreams.  At its center, it is a love song, and the story it tells is one that I hope all of us has the chance to experience at least once before we trip that mortal coil and bid this life goodbye.  Springsteen sings of the need for "a good companion for this part of the ride".  More than a quarter-century ago, mine found me.  And once she did, she never let go.  

And that has, as they say, made all the difference...

Good bye and good riddance, 2017.  See you on the other side...


Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Joke Told By A Fool

We have arrived at 2017's penultimate day.  I, for one, shall not mourn the transition this year makes from present to past tense.  Far too many unringable bells have been rung this year.  Far too many.  

Some were rung involuntarily.  Others were rung by deliberate design.  The echo of each, however long it may last, shall eventually become inaudible.  Life is, after all, a forward-moving exercise.   

The longer the journey, the fainter the echo.  As a wise man once observed, "Now there's so much that time, time and memory fade away..."

Here is to hoping he is right...


Friday, December 29, 2017

Celebration and Presence

Today, Simone, one of my uber-talented nieces (I have an impressive collection of uber-talented nephews too but none of them is celebrating a birthday today), is celebrating a birthday.  She is the older of Jill and Joe's dynamic duo of daughters.  I intend to retain my membership in the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States in perpetuity if for no other reason to have a good seat at her swearing-in as a Justice and, thereafter, her ascension to the position of Chief Justice.  

A few years ago, shortly before she completed her undergraduate studies at Oberlin ("Go Yeowomen!"), she wrote a piece that was featured among a collection of works known as Oberlin Stories.  I have it bookmarked on my computer at work.  From time to time, I pull it up simply so I can remind myself that nothing worth having comes easy - a lesson that Simone, who is half my age, not only learned well a very long time ago but has applied with grit and determination every day of her life thereafter. Her old uncle peruses it on the still-frequent occasions that I lose sight of that life lesson. 

She is an extraordinary young woman.  May her birthday be nothing less.  


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Missing...and Presumed Gone

And everyone is changing
And the storefront's rearranging
I picked up a quarter and I just saw my face
But it's all coming back now
Like the feeling isn't over
Hey, I know I was lost but I miss those days.
- Bleachers

I have loved music for as long as I can remember.  I cannot read it.  I cannot play it.  I cannot sing it.  Those limitations have done nothing to tamp down my enjoyment of it and, more than mere enjoyment, my dependence upon it to calm me, to enthuse me, and every now and again to simply serve as proof that everything shall in fact be OK.  

A few weeks ago, a New York station that once upon a lifetime ago was Howard Stern's terrestrial radio home, 92.3 K-Rock, flipped its format.  It now identifies itself as ALT 92.3.  It is my understanding that in the decade or so since Howard left for Sirius/XM, his former home has changed formats many, many times. Whether this latest incarnation takes or not, I would not pretend to know.  Time shall tell, I suppose.  

What has intrigued me about it - being a parsimonious dinosaur who refuses to pay for Sirius/XM and is therefore an Earth-bound misfit when it comes to radio options in my car - is the amount of music I like that is considered "alternative" - at least by whoever is the suit paid by whichever corporate monolith that owns ALT 92.3 pays to program the station.  I spend quite a lot of time, while I am in the car, listening to it.  So far, so good.  

Among the songs I have heard to which I took an immediate liking is "I Miss Those Days" by Bleachers.  Whether it resonates with you as it does with me is of as little moment to me as I presume (and hope) it is to you - unless you are a sheep who molds his or her preferences to mirror another's rather than simply standing on your own two feet.  

This has been a year in which significantly more doors have closed than have opened.  It has left me feeling more tired than I can ever remember feeling at any point in my life. An ever-escalating number of problems have sprung to life and continue to do so, problems for which I have not yet formulated a solution.  Problems that include among their number ones for which no solution is likely to be found.  

It is enough to make one nostalgic for a less shitty time...

...even if the journey lasts only four minutes or so. 


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Avoidance of the Worst Hell

If you happen by this little corner of the world on a regular basis, may I ask why?  Setting aside that question for a moment, if you do then you have perhaps noticed that I no longer write on a daily basis, which may have you hopeful for an even further reduction in the release of excrement into the atmosphere from this postal code.  Hang in there, you might not be disappointed.  After all, contrary to the belief held in certain corners, I do not actually believe all of my own bullshit.  Most of it? Certainly.  All of it?  That would simply seem immodest. 

But I digress. 

What follows here first appeared in this space and on this date back in 2013.  A lot has happened in my little corner of the world since then, both incredibly amazing stuff and unimaginably awful shit.  Having never been exceptional in any respect in a half-century-plus on this planet, I accept as a given that my experience in this regard is, itself, singularly unexceptional, which does not itself make it any less significant.  To me, at least. 



The Rate At Which I Turn

Time itself is Long,
Even if the time of Man is Short.
- Pete Hamill

As we continue to march unabated towards the conclusion of the "Holiday Season - 2013 Edition", we unwrap the bow today on the final Friday of this year.  Having reached this milestone, one may feel free to wonder aloud whether we should greet this day with "Already?" or "Finally!", a combination of the two or something altogether different.  

If your day-to-day is anything at all like mine (and I neither suggest that it should be nor wish to resign you to my particular fate), then your reaction to this particular day's arrival is probably a combination of emotions.  You have - in all likelihood - experienced days thus far in 2013 that felt as if they lasted for a second and a half.  Days that were so great that they were indeed over before you knew it.  You turned to look and they were gone.  I was fortunate to have a few of those days myself this year - none greater than Suzanne and Ryan's wedding day.  As a father you think you know what your reaction will be on the day on which your little girl (who has of course long since ceased being just that) gets married.  And then you see her wearing her wedding gown and it occurs to you just how amazing an event in her life this is and just how lucky you are to be there for it.  If I live to be 1,000, then I shall not outlive the warm memory of that day.  

A lot of bad shit happens in the world - and it does not take a day off to observe niceties such as Christmas.  Two teenagers, one fifteen and the other just thirteen, were murdered in Newark, New Jersey on Christmas Day.  The thirteen-year-old, a girl, was shot while taking out her family's garbage.  A day earlier, a man refused entry into an Irvington, New Jersey go-go bar murdered three men inside of the bar, including the bouncer who refused him entry upon discovering the man's concealed weapon during a pat-down of him on his way into the establishment and the bar's manager - the son of the man who owns the joint.  On Tuesday morning in Brookline, New Hampshire a volunteer firefighter named Steve Whitcomb had the extreme misfortune of being among the first of the first responders to a multi-vehicle car accident in which one of the drivers was killed.  The driver who died was Mr. Whitcomb's daughter, Katie Hamilton.  Ms. Hamilton was the mother of three young daughters who earned her living as a plumber - working for her father.  

Years ago the great John Hiatt crooned, "Time is short and here's the damn thing about it.  You're gonna die, gonna die for sure.  You can learn to live with love or without it but there ain't no cure...."  We the people have a seemingly endless number of ways in which we measure time.  We do so perhaps to help us create the illusion of having any control over it, which we of course do not.  We can create as many categories as we deem necessary - be they seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years or be they periods, quarters, halves, innings, games, matches, series or seasons - in a vain attempt to harness it.  But we never do.  

The overwhelming majority of us will not know, until it is too late, that we have run out of it.  No operator shall be standing by to take our order for just a little bit more.   There shall be no expansion pack to purchase.  All sales are final.  

Time shall pass irrespective of the level of enthusiasm we have for our day-to-day.  Once consigned to the scrap heap of history, a day gone by remains forever so.  You have a choice.  You can live your life or you can simply be alive.  It is most assuredly not a distinction without a difference.  Rather, it is the most important decision you shall be given the opportunity to make regardless of how long you live.  And every day you will be presented the chance to make it.    

Just do it.  Life is not a spectator sport. 


Monday, December 25, 2017

Adeste Fideles

Merry Christmas to you and yours.  As the great American philosopher Ferris Bueller famously observed more than three decades ago, "Life moves pretty fast."  

Given the rate at which the world turns, chances are pretty good that you shall not spend the day with all of the people who you love most of all.  May you have the chance to spend a portion of the day with at least one of those people...

Christmas 1998

...and if you cannot, then the least you can do is wear the sweatshirt.  Merry Christmas, Majaloo. 


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Being More Than A Thing To Which People Are Nailed

It is Christmas Eve according to the calendar. In our family, Maggie's first Christmas is - well it is this morning.  It has everything to do with Aunt Jess and Uncle Rob's schedule for their whirlwind visit to New Jersey and nothing to do with our effort to set a trend.  Although...

But I digress.

Today is Christmas Eve.  Whether you are a genuinely good human being or, well, someone who is more like me, today is the opportunity to be the person we really want to be.  I shall try not to squander mine.  Do yourself a favor, do not squander yours. 


Saturday, December 23, 2017

My Man Linus

This time of year is a bit tricky for me.  I enjoy the part of Christmas that puts Margaret, Joe, and me under the same roof - for a few hours at least - as both the local and the long-distance branches of the family tree.  I have considerably more difficulty, and equally so, with the crass commercial side of Christmas and the competitively devout side of it.  

As a man whose own "relationship" with God is, well, non-existent, I find the ubiquitous nature of "Keep Christ in Christmas" car magnets to ring almost as hollow as Madison Avenue's efforts to tie every fucking product currently available for sale to the holiday.  From what I recall of my Catholic School education, Christ was a pretty humble fella, which makes those who feel the need to advertise the depth of their devotion to him an anathema to how he went about his business. Moreover, is it really not Christmas unless I am inhaling a Honey Baked Ham while driving in my Toyota or Lexus or Infiniti or Kia or BMW on my way to Mohegan Sun Casino or sunny Florida or some other vacation spot, rocking my Ray-Bans while I drive, listening to Sirius XM radio?  

Color me skeptical. 

Among my favorite interpretations of "the meaning of Christmas" is that of Charles Schulz, as told to us by one of my favorite members of the Peanuts gang, Linus Van Pelt.  I get that Linus walks to center stage and recites some Old Testament blurb (I spent enough years in Catholic school and in church to recognize his source material).  I care significantly less about what comes out of his mouth than I do what is in his heart.  

If you were/are a faithful reader of Peanuts, you know that Linus does nothing without clutching his security blanket.  It is his relationship with his beloved blanket-and his need to always have it in his grasp that makes his oratory compelling.  The entire time that he is speaking from his heart and explaining to Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang what Christmas means to him, he does not need his security blanket.  At that moment and in that space, he is safe.

Whether you are a religious person or, like myself, an infidel, I hope we can agree that what my man Linus feels is, itself, the true meaning of Christmas. To find that feeling - and to be able to hold tight to it - is what Christmas is all about, is it not? 


Friday, December 22, 2017

In Search of Saint Elmo

Not counting my siblings, an extraordinary number of people I know, all of whom are now somewhere between fifty and fifty-five years old, experienced the death of at least one parent this year. Sadder still, I know of at least three families where this year a parent had to bury a child.  I know of no more profound disturbance in the natural order of the universe than that.  For some of us who endured a parent's death, including all members of the Kenny clan and my great friend Dave Lackland, it served as the basis to answer an under-asked, probably-not-quite-existential question, which is how old is too old to be considered an orphan?  

While our research on the issue is incomplete, Dave and I concluded after doing a bit of soul-searching (well, he searched his soul - being bereft of soul myself, I looked through the ashtray of my car for quarters) that at fifty we are too damn old to fit the bill.  Neither of us can pull off the red-headed perm, anyway, so it is probably for the best, all things considered. 

Yesterday morning, I went for a pre-sunrise run along the water before I had to head south to Toms River and play at being a lawyer.  Yesterday was, of course, the Winter Solstice.  It was the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere.  It was, also, the first day of winter.  

The sky was - well - simply extraordinary.  I was heading south on the Spring Lake Boardwalk.  I was running without my iPod - I knew I only had time for a short run and wanted to listen to the sounds of the morning rather than music.  As I ran south, I found myself transfixed on the sky to my left (the east).  Sunrise was still approximately ten minutes away.  I was so taken by the sky that rather than turn around on the boards and head north - and home - I ran down a set of steps onto the beach and then out to the waterline to take a look.  It was extraordinary.


I spend a statistically significant amount of time alone.  That is not a complaint.  It is merely an observation. It is an arrangement that inures mutually to my benefit and to that of the world. "Alone" time affords me time to ponder, time to contemplate, and (if we are grading on a generous curve) time to think.  Yesterday morning, it occurred to me that, maybe, those of us who lost a parent this year are simply experiencing our time at the edge.

St. Elmo's Fire, which was released in the Summer of '85, is one of my favorite movies, for which I shall not apologize. The movie examines the lives, loves, and friendships of seven Georgetown University alums (four women and three men) in the immediate wake of their graduation.  Spoiler alert:  They cannot get out of their own fucking way, which makes me think that I am likely a greater fan of this film than anyone who is now - or has ever been - affiliated with the Georgetown University admissions office.  

Rob Lowe's character, Billy, is arguably the member of the group for whom the "after-college life" proves the most challenging, but he ultimately proves to be the one who understands best of all what is happening in his life and in the lives of his friends.  He understands that what each is experiencing, while new to them, is something that each of us goes through at least one time in our life. 

The process can be terrifying.  It can be depressing.  It can be anxiety-producing.  But it is what it is.  And what it is, is a process.  It has a beginning and, as long as we keep our wits about it, it has an end.  As we trudge our way through it, we need to realize that its middle is of an as-yet-undetermined length.  Whether we realize it or not, we shall determine how long the journey is from its inception to its conclusion...

...and not merely when, but whether, we shall reach it. 



Thursday, December 21, 2017

To the Dream of an Invincible Summer

Here is to the invincible, yet-too-far-off-to-see-on-the-horizon-line, summer.  May it arrive not one moment too late.  

And may it, upon its arrival, bring with it significantly less pain and heartbreak than did last year's model. 


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Where Our Sins Lie Unatoned

History is in the mind of the teller. 
Truth is in the telling.

Today is the ninety-fourth anniversary of the birth of my father, William P. Kenny, Sr.  Since WPK, Sr. died before he attained his fifty-eighth birthday, the annual exercise in which I engage of identifying this day as his birthday, suggesting in the mind's eye of the reader perhaps some type of familial gathering at which cake and six-packs of Krueger Pilsner shall be consumed with an enthusiasm unmatched in human history taking place, borders on the ludicrous.  I do it anyway.  It makes me feel better perhaps.  Then again, maybe it is nothing more than habit.  A learned behavior, once learned, is damn hard to unlearn.  

The world seems quite a bit different to me since the last time this date appeared on the calendar.  Suzanne gave birth in May to Maggie, who is my first grandchild.  A bit less than one month later - twenty-eight days to be exact (Saturday to Saturday) - Mom died.  I feel the presence of the former and the absence of the latter every day.  The sense of loss I feel regarding Mom is substantial. It is palpable.  A part of me should feel guilty I suppose that I have grieved my mother's loss more during the past six-plus months than I have grieved my father's during the past thirty-six-plus years.  Or sorrowful perhaps regarding the absence of guilt.  I feel neither.  

Today, on WPK, Sr.'s birthday, more than any other day I am comfortable in how I feel regarding each of my parents.  I have no doubt that WPK, Sr. would, himself, take no issue with my position. My old man and I spent just slightly more than fourteen years together, the last one of which we spent circling each other like two enemies on the brink of war.  We loved one another. We simply did not like each other much.  That being said, we did not bullshit one another either.  Each of us knew how the other felt. Neither of us felt it necessary to shield the other from our feelings.  Life, after all, is not a popularity contest.  

It is far better to be honest than popular.  When the two notions become mutually abhorrent to one another, which shall of course happen, WPK, Sr. taught me to choose the former.  I have tried to always honor that lesson.  Being my father's son, I fall short more often than I wish I did.  

He did also. We all do. Life is a pretty goddamn humbling ride after all. 

In "Springsteen on Broadway", My Father's House from Nebraska is one of the songs that is part of the performance.  It has always been among my favorites from Springsteen's catalog.  It is at or near the top of my list of the songs he has written regarding his relationship with his father.  In the setting of the Broadway experience, a song that has always seemed to be one that Springsteen approaches from an acutely personal level takes on an even more heightened sense of intimacy.  Having read his autobiography, Born To Run, his performance did not surprise me. 

Chapter Sixty-One of Born To Run is entitled "Western Man" and in it, Springsteen writes of his dad's struggles with mental health (he apparently suffered from schizophrenia that went untreated - having not been diagnosed - for years), his struggles with various physical maladies, and the evolution of their relationship as Bruce, the now-adult son, prepared for fatherhood.  Douglas Springsteen died in April, 1998. Writing of their relationship, Springsteen wrote of lessons learned from his dad.  Some good and some not so much.  All of them important.  None more so, perhaps, than learning to recognize in one's self the continuing presence of certain dangers, "my favorite harpies, the ones I count on to return to flit and nibble around the edges of my beautiful reward."  

It turns out, after all, the most important lesson taught was the importance of vigilance.  Being vigilant can be exhausting.  Failing to be vigilant can be devastating.  WPK Sr. taught me that when presented with those options, exhaustion or devastation, choose exhaustion every time.  

It is a lesson I have never forgotten.  It is a lesson I shall endeavor to never, ever forget.  

Happy Birthday, Dad...


Friday, December 15, 2017

A Toast to Jeannie Shrimpton

I awakened on Wednesday morning at 3:00 am as is my habit.  At some point not too terribly long after my feet reintroduced themselves to the floor, my brother Bill sent me either a text message or perhaps a Facebook message communicating the sad news that Pat DiNizio had died.  

It is an odd thing, I reckon, to feel a reaction somewhere between sadness and grief when learning that a human being whom I never met had died.  Yet, my reaction to Bill's message was precisely that. Pat DiNizio was only sixty-two.  He was a loud and proud Jersey guy, and I mean that in the best possible way (and not in the Chris Christie "Get the Hell off of the Beach!" way).  History is replete with tales of artists who, upon 'making it big', seem to forget their own origin story and, in its place, effect an inflated sense of self-importance.  Pat DiNizio was not that artist

Proof that I understand little to nothing about the music business is my inability to understand why DiNizio's band, The Smithereens, never achieved commercial success equal to their critical acclaim. Their music, which I first listened to more than three decades ago, resonates with me as much now as it did then. 

That being said, I never saw The Smithereens in concert.  I did, however, see Pat DiNizio perform live.  In April, 2006, Margaret and I scored tickets for one of the rehearsal shows Bruce Springsteen performed with his Seeger Sessions Band at Convention Hall prior to the commencement of a world tour.  I cannot recall which show we saw, although I recall being joined by our friends, Dave Puteska and his wife (at that time, his girlfriend) Lindsay.  

When Springsteen's show ended, the four of us wandered a couple of blocks south to the Stone Pony to grab an after-concert drink.  The Pony was fairly empty as I recall.  On stage, playing a solo acoustic set, and into it as if he was playing for 20,000 adoring fans at the Garden instead of one hundred or so laid-back souls at the Pony, was Pat DiNizio.  He was outstanding.  We came into the Pony intending on grabbing a quick drink and then heading out.  We ended up staying for the remainder of his set, which included a number of Smithereens songs.  

I was a much younger man when I first made Pat DiNizio's acquaintance. Over the course of thirty-plus years, the fact that we never met has done nothing to lessen my appreciation of him, his talent, and the way in which he went about his day-to-day.  Not to mention the fact that when I was a nineteen-year-old college sophomore at the University of Colorado, he was the one who sang of a young woman who "held a bass guitar and she was playing in a band.  And she stood just like Bill Wyman, now I am her biggest fan."  A lifetime ago, for an eye-blink, I was desperately in love (smitten, one might say) with just such a young woman, and during the Fall 1986 Semester, every time he sang those words, I thought of her.  Alas, to paraphrase the late, great Tom Petty, "it was over before we knew it."  Truth be told, she knew it well before I did.  One does not get invited (her, not me) to study at Oxford for a semester without having a really big brain. 

Such is life for nineteen-year-old college sophomores... 

...behind the wall of sleep.    


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Still-Burning Beacons

Nine years ago today, I wrote about the experience of running my first-ever 5K, which I had done one morning earlier.  Jill had recruited me to run in The Big Chill with her.  So began my love affair with running and with that terrific Christmas-time event.

For Wilma and for Rob, the two people without whom the finish line on that cold December morning nine years ago might never have been crossed... me, at least. 


One Step Up

Yesterday morning I broke my maiden. Proving that this old dog is not yet too old to learn a new trick or two, I started and completed my first-ever 5K run. It is not an exaggeration to say that I would not have completed the final K or K and a half without the help of one loved one who was in my line of sight and another who was firmly implanted in my mind's eye.

My sister Jill - who I swear gets tinier every time I see her - runs marathons. Yesterday morning, as we assembled at the College Avenue Gym, which once upon a time was the home court for Rutgers University basketball - and was affectionately known as "the Barn" - in an era when the dividing line between the visiting team's bench and the home team's hostile fans was marked in the blood and gold. According to the information available on-line prior to the event, approximately 3500 people signed up to participate. Whether all who signed up in fact showed up on a seasonably chilly December morning on the banks of the Old Raritan, I know not. If I had shown any affinity for arithmetic I would have pursued my M.B.A. like so many of my smart friends. Instead, I went to law school to take a law degree. I have spent the past decade and a half or so practicing law to what I would consider - at the risk of sounding immodest (a lawyer sounding immodest, who'd have thunk it?) - to be a fair degree of success. I am fairly good at what I do and I think in the manner in which I conduct myself I have earned the respect of colleagues, adversaries and judges. I earn enough money that although I would respectfully disagree with PEBO (President Elect Barack Obama) as to whether I am "rich", the career path I have chosen has enabled me to do my part to provide for my family as one of the incomes in a two-income household.

The career path I have trod however is not one that provides a lot of "give back" opportunities - and the ones it provides I have been reticent to pursue. I owe my sister Jill a great debt for opening my eyes to this particular opportunity, which was both exhausting and exhilarating. The Big Chill is an event that has a wonderful purpose - it asks its participants to provide a new, unwrapped toy for a child (ages 3-14). There is no entry fee. The toys are then distributed by the New Brunswick Housing Authority to kids in need who, without the efforts of the good people who stage this event, would otherwise not have any Christmas.

I had never attempted to run 5K (or 5Ks - among the many things I know nothing about is the singular/plural usage in the metric system) until yesterday morning. I know not how much a K is - although I learned that 3.2 miles equals 5K. I do know that it was the final 1.2 miles - the indeterminate K for those of us who fail miserably at the whole conversion process (I am to non-metric / metric conversion what George Costanza was to the Latvian Orthodox religion) that represented uncharted territory for me. I run no more than 2 miles when I take my morning constitutional and from mile 2.1 to mile 3.2 my feelings vacillated between "I cannot do this" and "Holy Shit I am going to die right here".

Jill did not let me give up. Not only did she not let me give up - she spent the whole race running with me - as opposed to shouting "later Hansel, follow the breadcrumbs back to the car" - and running at what is her "usual" pace of 7 minute miles or so. By laying in the weeds with her little brother - a/k/a the anchor - and helping me through a 10 minute per mile pace, she assured that her time on the course was quite longer than it would have been had she not invited me to participate. And during the last mile, when I played little games with my own mind (you know what I mean - the "if I can make it as far as ..... then I'll be OK"), she got me home. She spent most of the final mile running anywhere from 50 to 100 feet ahead of me because she would have been forced to start running on her hands to accommodate my "pace" (bending the acceptable definitional limits of that word to - if not beyond - their breaking point) and I fixed upon her - running ahead of me - until we made it back to College Avenue. At that point, we were .2 miles from the finish (I know not if that even qualifies as a partial k or is perhaps a 'c' or an 'e' or something) and she dropped back so we could finish together.

While I had Jill fixed in my line of sight to help me find my way home, I had Rob fixed in my mind's eye. There I played on a continuous loop the sight of Rob and his mates completing their final PT assignment - a ten-mile run. And knowing that while running the ten miles they were called upon to perform a variety of other physical activities and knowing that at stake for them was nothing other than their hoped-for careers. No pressure right? Finish or go home.

And knowing as well that at the ripe young age of 22 my son had spent 17 and 1/2 weeks on his own working without a safety net and successfully completing one "do it or go home" assignment after another. And knowing also that the first rung on the ladder of his career has taken him far away from his home and his family and the only part of the world he had ever lived. And knowing that he has done it all because it is what he has been required to do.

He has sacrificed much more at his still young age than I have - even with two extra decades of living to fall back upon. And given how many reasons he has made me unbelievably proud of him, I thought it was about time the old man got on the board and gave him one back.

I spend every Saturday morning in the office, working. Not this weekend. This weekend I spent Saturday morning with two people who I am damned lucky to have in my life. And in the process I got to do something that I do far too infrequently - something good for someone else.

With my soul on empty and my face to the wind, I'm off and running. I'm off and running again. Indeed I am. And maybe I am not as barren a soul as I had thought and feared.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Reservoir of Unspent Love

While I do not have the empirical evidence to back it up, it certainly seems to me as if 2017 has been an especially sad year.  Perhaps even a cruel year.  Death has descended upon too many families (including mine) for me to accurately count.  It has done so in a way that has approximated some sadistic variation on a metronome, attacking with as much relentless regularity here in the year's final days as it has throughout the year's first eleven months.  

This has been a year in which everyone's family, it seems, has spent a painful moment or two in Death's cross-hairs.  It is an experience I would characterize as decidedly unpleasant.  Without asking for confirmation of this particular point, I presume that it has been nothing less than equally unpleasant for everyone whose footwear includes at least a single pair of shoes in which I have walked a step or two.  

On Saturday, my great friend Tom Swales sent me a text message to let me know that his dad, Tom, had died that morning in Jupiter, Florida.  Tom's folks had moved down to Jupiter a number of years ago - not too far from Mom - and when I needed to chat lawyer-to-lawyer with a Florida-barred attorney right after Mom died in early June, the attorney with whom I had the conversation was Mr. and Mrs. Swales' attorney, whose name I obtained through Tom.  

I have had the pleasure of knowing Tom (and latching onto him as a friend) since he and Jill first became classmates and fast friends way back when they were in the 7th grade at W-H, which was a time long enough ago that the Lower School and the Upper School were located on separate campuses in two different towns; that the Lower School students walked from class to class outside; and that the "-" had not yet been replaced by the "+" in the school's logo.  Halcyon days indeed. 

It is my great good fortune that less than a year after Margaret and I closed on our little piece of Paradise by the Sea, Tom did likewise.  He lives exactly three blocks north of us although, unlike us, he is already a full-time resident of the greater Belmar-Lake Como Metroplex.  Like us, he is on a "special" patron list at Anchor Tavern, a distinction for which he and I both blame Margaret, and rightly so.  

But I digress. 

Tom's dad was eighty-four.  That is an age at which, when someone dies, a person (likelier than not someone not intimately familiar with either the person who died or that person's family) invariably comments upon what a nice, long life the person had or some similarly-phrased well-intended yet utterly inane platitude.  When it is your father, eighty-four is not "a nice, long life".  It is too damn short. It is not fucking long enough.  It is unfair.  Trust me on this.  The calculus changes not at all when you substitute "mother" for "father" and "eighty-eight" for "eighty-four".  

As it turns out, the age, while a variable, ultimately is irrelevant. For whatever the age is, it is never, ever long enough.  The equation never balances.  It never balances because Time does not fight fair.  It never has.  

Generally speaking, each of us walks a path of indeterminate length as we journey from Life's first act to its last.  Our journey along our path begins at some point after our mother's or our father's began.  More often than not, it continues beyond the point where their journey ends.  As we make our way in the world, we hopefully come to understand that at the point on the path where our journey joined theirs, they began imparting on us not simply their wisdom but their adventures, their experiences, and their memories, which we carried forward with us thereafter.  At their journey's end, it is incumbent upon us to pay forward the treasures they bestowed upon us onto those whose journeys began at some point after our own.  We owe our children the history of our parents just as our parents owed us the history of their parents and our children shall owe their children our history.  

It is the gift of the ever-forward-paying history that is our legacy.  And to bestow upon us one worth sharing with our children is the greatest gift our parents ever give us. For it is the gift that serves to countermand Time's brutally harsh effect.  It is the gift that keeps them alive in us long after we have said our last goodbyes to them.  It is the gift that keeps them right where they should be... our heart.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Alice, Lost In Wonderland

I get under the hood, 
it's like Alice lost in Wonderland...
I don't know nothing about that stuff.
But I think I understand the spiritual
& religious significance of the .396...
-Bruce Springsteen

While I was out for my sunrise run on Saturday morning, I was accompanied musically (among other songs) by the broadcast of Springsteen's epic performance at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles, California.  It shall be forty years ago this coming July that Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked the crowd at the Roxy as well as those folks listening out "in radio land" on KMET, which had Bob Coburn on site, broadcasting live, and Jim Ladd holding down the fort in the studio.  It is an extraordinary listen. 

Included among that show's treasure trove of highlights is the performance of Racing in the Street, which has always been my favorite Springsteen song.  It is the inspiration for the title of this little piece of silliness, which in hindsight might not have been the most complimentary way to honor it.  Apologies, Mr. Springsteen. 

At the song's end, although the protagonist, whose travails make Racing one of the less upbeat rockers in Springsteen's catalog, does not have in place an actual plan by which he can redeem himself, he has decided upon the all-important first step...

...from which his next step shall then be determined.  The song fades out with us not knowing what his next step shall be.  We know nothing about what his future holds for him beyond the pending journey to the ocean to be baptized anew.  The beauty of Racing to me has always been that it is equally unclear whether he knows what shall follow the baptism.  Is the rest of his life mapped out already or is it yet to be determined?  

Nothing in the world as inspiring as a man with a plan, right? 

Until we meet again...  

May the road always rise to meet you...


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Ahead, Into The Dark...

Six months ago yesterday, June 2, 2017, was a Friday.  I had driven down to our little Paradise by the Sea on Thursday night - with Rosalita - and treated it as the first official "WFTB" (Work From The Beach) Friday of the Summer of 2017.  Kara was in Florida - in the hospital with Mom, who had driven herself there a week or so earlier to be admitted as a patient, directly from a doctor's appointment (her heart doc, I think).  Things for Mom were not great but - at least as the sun rose that Friday morning - they had not yet shifted to irrevocably dire. 

Discussions took place during the day on Friday regarding the trouble Mom's heart was having holding a strong, steady rhythm.  To my recollection, the action plan as of Friday afternoon was that she was going to be fitted with a small, relatively unobtrusive device that would serve to (hopefully) correct that problem.  I went to sleep at the beach Friday night, having talked to Kara and to Jill several times throughout the day, knowing that Mom was still wandering through the deep forest but anticipating (or hoping perhaps) that Saturday, June 3, would bring brighter, better news.  When I finally fell asleep, I did so with the volume turned all the way up on my cell phone and with the phone in the bed next to me - ready to respond, I suppose, to any information that might be received over night. 

I find nothing in the world to be as cathartic and as soothing as I find running along the water, whether on the boardwalk or on the sand.  If I had a "happy place", then the ocean would be it.  I awakened on Saturday morning, texted Jill to get an update on Mom, and upon learning that her status, while not peachy, had remained stable and unchanged from what it had been on Friday, threw on my faithful Brooks Ghost 8's and headed east on 17th Avenue to the water.   

Full disclosure demands that I acknowledge not having an independent recollection of the direction I headed that morning, upon reaching the Belmar boardwalk.  Just the other day, however, while looking for another photo on my phone, which I not only never found but which I abandoned the search for once I stumbled upon these photographs, I found the pictures that I had taken on that morning's run, which began before sunrise.  And as my early morning runs usually do, it began overlooking the 17th Avenue Beach - our beach.

17th Avenue Beach - Belmar

From our beach, the photographic evidence reminded me that I headed north, over the Shark River Bridge into Avon and (in all likelihood) beyond.  As I headed north on the boardwalk through Belmar, I passed (as one always does) the Belmar Fishing Club.  On this particular Saturday morning, I ran by it a few minutes before sunrise.  The sky at that time of day is usually extraordinary and on that morning it did not disappoint.

Belmar Fishing Club

No runner in the history of running has less luck than I do trying to time the opening of the Shark River Drawbridge.  I have spent many a morning standing and waiting on the Belmar side or the Avon side - and on days when I run utterly unaccompanied by any luck whatsoever - on both sides of the bridge, as the fishermen head off in pursuit of the day's catch.  On Saturday, June 3, I apparently had to wait long enough on the Belmar side that I ran down onto the dunes on the Belmar side of the Shark River Inlet to grab a couple of shots before hopping back up to street level to wave to the anglers whose journey had temporarily delayed mine. 

Sunrise from the dunes on the Belmar side
Shark River Inlet

Morning Fleet leaving through Shark River Inlet

At some point, forty minutes or so later, I was back at the 17th Avenue Beach. I smiled looking out at the water and, in the foreground, Maggie's Playground (although from the colors of the sky, these photographs look to have been taken at run's beginning rather than at its end). Pop Pop's beautiful baby genius has not yet spent any time there.  This summer, perhaps.  The attorney in me stands by the decision to secure the naming rights. 

Maggie's Playground - Belmar

Less than twelve hours after these photographs were taken and my morning's run was completed, Mom died. As things tend to do, I suppose, at the end of one's life, things went downhill very quickly that Saturday.  I do not remember when precisely I did it, but at some point either late that morning or early that afternoon, I called Kara on her cell phone, which she held up to Mom's ear so that I could say goodbye.  I told Mom that I loved her, of course, and I thanked her.  I thanked her for being brave and for teaching me - when I was just fourteen and Dad died without a will and without life insurance and taking roughly 80% of the household income with him to his grave - how to be brave.  It is from Mom I learned the important distinction between fear and panic. It is a lesson I took to heart and have never forgotten.  

Six months.  It is a short time. It is a long time.  It is a lifetime.  

History is sealed and unchangeable.  You can move on,
With a heart stronger in the places it's been broken,
Create new love.  You can hammer pain and trauma into
A righteous sword and use it in defense of life, love,
Human grace and God's blessings.  But nobody gets a do-over.
Nobody gets to go back and there's only one road out.
Ahead, into the dark...
-Bruce Springsteen


Saturday, December 2, 2017

These Three Things

It was four weeks ago tomorrow that #TeamFam experienced the 2017 New York City Marathon together.  In the past two years, I had the privilege of completing an incredible race with my #1 running companera, Gidg, in whose company I have run more races than either of us can remember or would like to remember.  I have also had the pleasure and privilege of crossing the finish line with my sisters.  In 2016, it was Stel who formed the third member of the Holy Trinity (along with Gidg and me) as we crossed the finish line in Central Park.  Last month, it was Wilma.  

Each of the past two Marathon Sundays was an extraordinary day for me.  It was a day that I shall cherish for as long as my ever addling-mind permits me to do so, which if it deteriorates at the same pace as my vision and my hearing may be a day whose appearance on the calendar is much closer than I would prefer.  

This year, though, as Wilma and I were running through the Bronx together and, later, when we crossed the finish line together, while I was selfishly very happy to have had the chance to run the New York City Marathon with her, my joy was tempered significantly by the realization that but for her extended battle with the Monster upon whom we spent that Sunday stomping, which she has waged ferociously for the past decade, I could not have matched strides with her.  Her place in the running galaxy is far closer to that occupied by her brother-in-law, Russ, than that occupied by her brother.

The other day, Wilma posted a photo on Instagram, which photo was an image representing the "three things" of which Jim Valvano spoke during his epic speech at the ESPY Awards: 

It occurred to me, while re-reading Jimmy V's words that on Marathon Sunday, each of the past two years but particularly so this year when I kept company with Gidg, Stel, and Wilma, I did all three of those things...


...which explains I suppose why it was I had one heck of a day.

Here's to today.  



Friday, December 1, 2017

A Source of Warmth on Cold Days

A happy trip today in the WABAC Machine.  As preparations continue for the first "W/O M" (Without Mom) Christmas of my life, I remember the stealth that Rob and I employed in December, 2008, which resulted in my flying him home from Wyoming for Christmas, unbeknownst to anyone else in our family, including of course his mother and his grandmother.  Should the world and I both suffer the misfortune of me living to be one hundred, neither time nor infirmity shall ever erase from my memory the looks on the faces of Margaret and Suzy B. when Rob walked into the Middlesex High School gymnasium (where the pair of wondrous women were watching wrestling) to announce his arrival.  

As it turned out, while my purpose in flying my son home for Christmas was to make sure that he did not spend Christmas, alone, almost two thousand miles from his family, it ended up serving an even better purpose.  Christmas 2008 turned out to be Suzy B.'s final Christmas.  Her long, nails-tough battle against cancer would come to an end in the early morning hours of June 2, 2009.  Had he not been home to spend the holiday with her and with us, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life... 

Rob and Nona 
- Christmas Eve, 2008


The Son Also Lands.....

With apologies to Papa Bear Hemingway, it fits. It simply fits. Last night, unbeknownst to everyone in our family except for the two of us, I picked Rob up at Newark Airport. He is, for the next several days anyway, "home". I wanted for once to give my life's love - Margaret - a Christmas present that did not make her crinkle up her nose or skim furiously thru her in-head copy of Roget's Thesaurus for a phrase that sounds more hopeful than, but is equally damning as, "That's nice." I wanted for once to give her a present that she would not want to give back. With the deft skill of my son, I succeeded.

The next few days will pass at a maddeningly quick pace, no doubt. The good times never seem to last, right? It matters not. I will gladly trade the letdown that is coming by late Sunday afternoon, when Rob is jetting west again for the next several days of joy.

As I explained to Margaret and to Rob last night as we sat in the kitchen eating a late dinner together, I am frustrated on a daily basis by my impotence and my inability to effect meaningful change on any number of aspects of my life. However, having our little family all in the same place for Christmas was something that was within my control. I had the ability to bring a whole lotta happiness into our home - in a year when happiness has at times been in short supply. And I did not squander my opportunity. The ability to effect meaningful change sure felt good.

Faith will be rewarded. And in our little sliver of earth 'neath the snow globe, it has. 'Tis the season after all.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Book of Eli

On a late November Tuesday afternoon, in a season that hurtled towards irrelevance on Opening Night and has remained in an almost-constant state of free fall since, the incompetent Head Coach of the New York Giants, Ben McAdoo, who wakes up the echoes of Ray Handley in everything he does and says, declared the time to be right to bench the franchise's face, Eli Manning.  

Apparently, after a long morning spent looking at the wall-length mirrors in the team offices at Met Life Stadium, Little Ben and General (Mis)Manager Jerry Reese, finally identified what the problem is on the lifeless, terrible team they have constructed.  Imagine their relief upon discovering that the problem is not either of them, but Eli.  Imagine their delusion upon discovering that the solution to the problem is...Geno Smith

And so, in all likelihood, an era of New York sports ends.  Not with a bang, but a whimper.  Not with a pat on the back, but with a kick in the ass.  A reminder perhaps, if of nothing else, of how hard it is for any of us, irrespective of what it is we do, to script our ending.  Had Eli Manning earned the right to a better fate? Certainly.  It is for that reason that those of us who follow, and who cheer for, the Giants feel now as we felt on Tuesday afternoon, which is as if the punch Eli took to his gut was absorbed to a degree by all of us.  Not only has he been deprived of the chance to have his famous final scene as a Giant, we have too. 

Understand though that what transpired on Tuesday afternoon would not have happened - and could not have happened - if the men who write the checks, Mr. Mara and Mr. Tisch, had not blessed its occurrence. McAdoo and Reese are the face of this decision, for sure, but neither would have announced it publicly had they not previously discussed it privately with the team's owners, whose approval was most assuredly a condition precedent to its execution.  

Eli Manning is not the first good person who deserved a better fate.  He shall not be the last.  He is, however, "ours".  Not simply because he has won two Super Bowls - and picked up two Super Bowl MVP trophies along the way - but because of the way in which he goes about his business.  On Tuesday, unquestionably the very worst day of his professional life, he handled himself with dignity and with grace.  On a day dominated by little men, he remained that which he has always been...

...a Giant.