Friday, June 23, 2017

Soppin' 'n' Boppin' 'n' Moppin' with Little Melvin and the Invaders

This afternoon, at 3:30 pm, two young people of whom I am quite fond, Veronica Catanzaro and Andrew Perez, shall marry.  I intend to sneak away from the practice of law for a bit to bear witness to this most happy event.  

Today, they begin.  May it never end.

Mr. Springsteen, might you and the band give the newlyweds something to which they can dance...




-AK 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Just This Once

Don't cry because it's over.
Smile because it happened.
- Dr. Seuss

A sad bit of news crossed my path the other morning.  I learned, via the maniacal precision of Facebook, Robert McMullen had died.  Mr. McMullen was eighty-five years old.  His son, Sean, was one of Jill's closest friends when the two were at W-H as members of the Class of '83.  Sean and I became good friends also, bonding over shared interests such as soccer.  I have also had the pleasure of calling the youngest of the McMullens, Macada, a friend for almost as long as I can remember. Through my occasional volunteering at W-H over the past several years, I have not only reconnected with Macada and her husband, Rudy Brandl (who was a classmate of Jill's and Sean's at W-H) but have also had the chance to meet their three children. Singularly excellent human beings, the McMullens, and this latest generation, the grandchildren, more than acquits themselves quite nicely.  

Mr. McMullen taught at W-H for ten years.  His time there post-dated mine.  I had gotten to know him however through his wife, Alice.  Mrs. McMullen taught English at W-H.  She was an excellent teacher and remains one of the best teachers I have ever had.  I loved her class - especially the good-natured way she and I did battle over Henry David Thoreau's Walden.  Thoreau was an existentialist and was one of Mrs. McMullen's favorites.  Truth be told, I found his work interesting and have re-read Walden a couple of times as an adult.  Knowing how much she loved it, and opting to be disagreeable, I repeatedly objected to it during class, exasperating her by pointing out that Thoreau abandoned his life "on the pond" to return to civilization and write his silly book, thus revealing him to be a fraud.  It did not, of course, which I knew, although I never shared with her my thoughts on the subject.  I simply allowed her to keep coming at me with her love of Thoreau.  She enjoyed the combat - as did I.  

To her credit, revealing just what an exquisitely gifted teacher she was, my stated disdain for one of her favorite books did not color her perception of me.  She never treated me anything but fairly the entire year.  I am hard-pressed to think of anyone who had Mrs. McMullen as a teacher who did not come away from the experience better for it.  She genuinely cared about the children she taught - and not simply while you were a student in her classroom.  She kept tabs.  She checked in.  

It was her "checking in" that formally introduced me to Mr. McMullen.  He was still on faculty at Plainfield High School during those years, teaching various math disciplines.  Anticipating that I might need a bit of help - not only with pre-calculus but also with the math portion of the SAT - Mom inquired of her friend and colleague, Alice, whether Mr. McMullen would be able to take me on as a pupil.  She asked and, without hesitation, he agreed.  I cannot remember for how many weeks our Saturday morning tutoring sessions lasted but I know I came out of them far better off than I had been when I began them.  I am quite confident that I represented one of his greatest mathematics reclamation projects although he was far too modest to make a big deal out of it.  

I had not seen Mr. McMullen in too many years to remember, although I have seen Mrs. McMullen on a fairly regular basis at W-H's annual Fall Fair/Homecoming.  A few years ago, when Margaret was with me, I introduced my wife to her.  I made Mrs. McMullen laugh at the memory of her giving my class a "quote" test on Herman Melville's Billy Budd to curb one of my classmate's almost-religious reliance upon Cliff Notes. For those unfamiliar with Billy Budd, it is less than one hundred and fifty pages long. There are any number of assigned reading books that scream out for Cliff Notes, but this was not one of them.  For those unfamiliar with Cliff Notes, back in the day they featured detailed plot summaries...and no quotations from the text.  A lesson my classmate, Don Cooper, learned the hard way.  

Here is the contact information for the Celebration of Robert McMullen's Life that shall happen at noon on Saturday, June 24, in Fanwood, New Jersey.  While I have always enjoyed seeing Sean, Macada, and Mrs. McMullen, I would trade my right arm for not having an excuse to see them this weekend.  A sentiment doubtlessly shared by all in attendance.  

In fact, I would bet you a dollar that just this once, Dr. Seuss would tell all of us that it is not only okay to cry, it is completely understandable. 

-AK 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Yesterday's Weather Report

The gift of hope is that hope survives.  
Keep your eyes front and see what's ahead.
Don't look up yesterday's weather report.
- Matthew Speidel

Today is the Summer Solstice.  It is the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the day in this hemisphere that shall have daylight longer than any other.  From this day forward until we reach the Winter Solstice, each day will contain less light and more darkness than the one that preceded it.  The regression will be gradual at first - until we reach November's first Sunday.  

I know not when my longtime friend Matt Speidel first offered the observation at the top of today's piece.  I know only that several years ago, he commented upon something that had appeared here by sharing it.  While I was initially disheartened and chapped by the fact that his comment was better than whatever it was I had written upon which he had commented, I ceased my tantrum long enough to realize just how right he was.  Every now and again I find myself guilty of looking up yesterday's weather report.  Often, I do it without meaning or intending to do so.  I simply allow myself to fall into that trap.  Whenever that happens, I remember Matt's straightforward, solid advice.  He is right.  Life is a forward-moving exercise.  

Monday afternoon, I was eating my lunch in the quiet of my office and I began perusing the New York Times' on-line edition.  My single-most favorite thing about subscribing to the Times is that my print subscription affords me unfettered access to the paper's website.  More often than not, I steal time during the day to digest a significant amount of information so that by the time I get home and have a chance to look at the day's paper, most of what is written there that I wanted to read, I have already read. 

I read a piece that struck me as being simply extraordinary.  Better stated, I read what I consider to be an exceptionally well-written piece by Michael Powell on a young track-and-field athlete, Gabriele Grunewald, who is nothing short of heroic each and every day.  Her story resonated very powerfully with me.  It hit much closer to home than I wish it did and its prospective outcome is far less sunny than I would have hoped.  

I nevertheless thought of Matt's credo after I read it.  And I realized that when one's life is lived on an oval, one's eyes remain fixed on the track ahead and not on the ground one has already covered.  And as long as there is track ahead, there is hope.  

Irrespective of the weather. 

-AK   

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bridge Building

There is a Land of the living 
and a Land of the dead,
and the Bridge is Love, 
the only Survival, the only Meaning.
- Thornton Wilder

Proof of Mr. Wilder's words abounds in the Borough of Belmar.  This Friday night is the annual charity fundraiser, the Mayor's Ball, the proceeds of which typically go to the Belmar Youth Club, which provides an off-season recreational program for elementary-school children (Grades Three through Eight) in Belmar and Lake Como. Elementary-school children such as Mitzi Hernandez, the thirteen-year-old who tragically drowned on Thursday night, and her twelve-year-old cousin, Emily Gonzalez-Perez who remained on life support at Jersey Shore Medical Center throughout the weekend following Thursday night's incident before succumbing to her injuries on Monday morning

This year, in addition to serving its intended purpose, Belmar's Mayor Matt Doherty has announced that the Mayor's Fund shall provide $20,000 from the proceeds from the Mayor's Ball directly to the the families of these two little angels. Families whose financial circumstances are such that the economic havoc this horror has visited upon them is something they simply cannot bear.  And it is something, thanks to the generosity of those in their community, they shall likely not have to bear.  

Belmar's Business Administrator, Colleen Connolly has also established a fundraising page "Belmar Angels" for the families.  If you are interested and also are able to help, then the link to the GoFundMe page may be found here

The Missus and I are simply part-time residents in our little Paradise by the Sea but it is an area with which I fell in love immediately upon our arrival.  We spend as many weekends as we can there in the "off-season", which I love even more than I love our summers at the Shore.  There is a real small-town vibe that permeates Lake Como and Belmar, which might be hard for the unfamiliar eye to detect when our little metroplex is wall-to-wall people between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  There is a real sense of community, which has - in the aftermath of every parent's most feared nightmare - once again come to the fore. 

That same small town in each of us?  It is one hell of a good feeling...

...even when it is being called upon under the worst possible circumstances. 

-AK 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Riders in the Field Where Sunlight Streams...

It was on this very day, twenty-four years ago that Margaret and I were married.  All these years later she remains the great miracle of my life.  I hope one day to return the favor in kind.  Truth be told, the odds against that happening are pretty long.  See, those of you out there (and we both know who you are) who claim to know otherwise, I do not always believe my own bullshit.

Nor do I always have a sock lying around on the off-chance I might need one, as evidenced by the photograph below...


The Missus and Me - 06/06/14
Photo Credit: Lucy Byrnes


...but I digress.

For my long-suffering, eternally-patient bride, who signed on for better or for worse almost a quarter century ago and who remains eternally optimistic that the former is just ahead, up over the rise, I offer all that I have to give:  My gratitude and my love.  Both are yours for as long as you shall have them.  And me. 

Happy Anniversary...

...All Aboard! 




-AK 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Dad's Bigly Day

If you are a Dad, then Happy Father's Day to you! May you enjoy the (a) tie; (b) coffee mug; (c) grilling accessory; or (d) all of the above with which your family has perhaps plied you on what is, after all, our "Bigly Day"!   

My genius granddaughter, Maggie, arrived in time to ensure that her mom and dad would each break their respective maidens in 2017.  Thus, just as Suzanne celebrated her first Mom's Day last month, today Ryan shall enjoy his first Father's Day.  I hope he enjoys the hell out of it...

...and out of all of the ones that shall follow it.  As he shall soon learn (actually my son-in-law is wicked smart so he likely already knows this), even when your daughter is working you over with one of her "merciless mind games" (his turn of phrase, which makes me chuckle simply to read), your gig is a pretty damn great one.  

Happy Father's Day, Gentlemen!  


Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Sad Reminder

Regardless of whether you are having a particularly good week, an especially bad week, or just a week that unfolded in a manner similar to the one that came before it, it is useful to be reminded that you do not hold a monopoly on all of the world's problems. It is also painful for those whose tragedy serves as the basis of your reminder. 

When I returned to the office on Monday, I learned that one of my partners had also just lost his elderly mom, who was (I believe) ninety.  She had battled her share of illnesses and problems, as people of a certain age often do, and on Sunday night, she died. He and his family buried her on Thursday morning.  

Margaret and I spent a portion of last evening at a wake.  One week ago, a cousin on Margaret's mother's side of the family died.  He died, suddenly, at home...and on his birthday.  He was just forty-nine.  As last night's wake confirmed, he is survived by a multitude of family and friends who love him, including his two minor children and his mother, each of whom now faces the unhappy task of living life without him.  As if this tragedy needed another layer, he was an only child.  

Thursday night, in Belmar, a tragedy occurred involving two little girls. They apparently became distressed while in the water off of the 9th Avenue Beach at or about 6:30 pm. There are no lifeguards manning the chairs at that time but rescuers responded and made a Herculean effort to save both of them.  The older of the two little girls, age thirteen, was pronounced dead at Jersey Shore Medical Center on Thursday night. Her twelve-year-old cousin, as of mid-afternoon on Friday, remained on life-support.  Much further south along the shore, in the surf off of the beach in Atlantic City, two teenagers, a boy and a girl, disappeared Thursday night and were presumed to have drowned. 

As you know, and I do also, significantly more tragedy has befallen the world this week than these few examples.

It always shall.  

-AK 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Hey Mister Deejay Woncha Hear My Last Prayer...

Being Irish he had an abiding sense of tragedy,
which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.
- Yeats

During the "week that was" in Florida, emotional refuge was sought and found in the company of my sisters.  Kara, Jill, and I have always had a close relationship.  That being said, I am fairly confident that I spent more time with both of them between June 3rd and June 10th than I had spent with either of them in more than thirty years.  We spent a considerable amount of our time simply talking to one another, reminiscing about stories from our childhood and catching each other up on our lives and on the exploits of our children/adult offspring.  

Our drive north from Mom's, which began shortly after 1:00 pm on Friday the 9th, began somewhat predictably I suppose as a somewhat sad, somber affair.  However as daylight ceded the stage to darkness and, thereafter, as the night of the 9th transitioned to the wee small hours of the morning of the 10th, the onset of profound fatigue was accompanied by abject silliness.  Jill has SiriusXM radio in her car (unlike her cheapskate brother) and after we finished listening to Game Four of the NBA Finals, she parked the dial on the Sirius "80's on 8" channel.  For the next several hours, not a single song played to which all three of us did not know the words.  To those driving in lanes next to us northbound on I-95, we must have looked like something akin to a half-ass Wayne's World ensemble.  We were singing and bopping our heads back and forth and up and down to the songs that became the soundtrack of our ride home.  

Too many times to count in my life - and I suspect in yours also - someone has expressed the thought that life imitates art. If one takes a prohibitively expansive view of the definition of art, and permits it to include movies made by late director, John Hughes, then for several hours last week our life did indeed imitate art.  

Anyway, something about the car ride and my reminiscing about it throughout this week led me back to something I wrote on Jill's birthday roughly three and one half years ago.  The memory of which I wrote is one that almost thirty-five years later still makes me smile.  As I have been reminded of rather forcefully this month, having something about which to smile is a very, very good thing...

...and in fact may have delivered me from nowhere

THURSDAY, JANUARY 16, 2014


Birthdays and B-Sides

Early September 1982.  It was shortly after the first day of school of what was my 10th grade year at W-H.  It was the start of Jill's senior year.  Kara was in California having just started her second year in college at the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, which actually had a better football team in the early '80's that its namesake in Indiana.  Dad had been dead for a bit more than a year.  It was just Jill, Mom and me at the homestead two tumbleweeds past nowhere's middle - Neshanic Station. 

I needed new screw-on studs for my soccer cleats so after dinner Jill and I had hopped into Mom's little red Chevette (the ultimate automotive "B"-side) and headed off to the nearest sporting goods store.  Thirty-plus years later I have no recollection as to what store we went to - although I would suspect it was probably a "Herman's World of Sporting Goods" since I have a vague recollection of one being located in the strip mall on Route 22 East in Green Brook where the Perkin's Pancake House now stands.  Wherever we went we got what I needed and we headed home.

As we drove up Amwell Road - heading towards Wertsville Road and thereafter our house - I blurted out how much fun it would be if I could drive.  I recall making the type of argument that sounds incredibly well-reasoned in the mind's eye of a lunatic.  Given that we were the only car on the road and given that we were less than a couple of miles from home, Jill quickly ran through worst-case scenarios in her head and finding none of them to be overwhelmingly terrifying she relented.  We pulled over into the parking lot of the little church - I think it is the Neshanic Reformed Church - that was located on the right side of Amwell Road a half-mile or so before the first leg of Wertsville Road - and we switched positions in the vehicle.

Let history reflect that the first two or three minutes of my vehicle operations history were silky smooth.  Mom's Chevette was an automatic transmission and I moved effortlessly from the parking lot out onto Amwell Road and then began the climb up the little hill that led to Amwell's "T" intersection with Wertsville.  I was a natural.  No doubt about it. 

For reasons that probably help explain a great deal why as a child playing baseball I had a tendency to swing at and miss pitches a foot or more off of the outside corner of home plate, it was when I made the left turn from Amwell onto Wertsville that the wheels started to come off.  Literally and figuratively.  I took the turn a bit too wide - although not more than three feet or so - and managed to scrape the right side of the Chevette - including of course both right-side tires - along the huge, oversized railroad ties that the people who owned the home at the corner used as some sort of weird demarcation line for their property. 

Jill instantly recognized that the noise coming from beneath the right side of the vehicle was not one that a driver, experienced or otherwise, expected to hear.  I drove us not more than 50-100 feet down Wertsville Road - the technical term I believe is "leaving the scene of the accident" - so we could escape detection while assessing the damage.  The first prong of our plan was a smashing success.  No one came out of the house at the corner or any other one for that matter.  The second prong was very much less so.  I presume at some point within the past three decades some utility company has placed light fixtures along Wertsville Road.  Back in September '82 there were only three types of lighting available:  Sun, Moon and Head.  None of the three was a viable option for us.  Thus, our damage assessment was a bit "underwhelming". 

Luckily I did not flatten either of the tires, which enabled us - with Jill now calling the shots again on the bridge - to complete the trip home.  Better luck for us was seeing when we arrived home and pulled the car into the garage that it had not been dented or dinged at all.

However, it did appear as if it had been sexually assaulted by a Lincoln Log.  There were railroad tie shreds and scraps sticking out of rim around the front right tire as well as a number of other auto-fices on the vehicle's right side.  Not wanting to alert Mom to anything being wrong with the car we excised them as much as we could and then went into the house. 

The next day Jill drove all three of us to W-H.  When Mom walked around to the front passenger's door she stopped and stood silently staring at the right rear tire.  There, as big as a Sequoia in a forest appeared a sizable piece of railroad tie sticking out of the rim.  I know not how we missed it during our post-incident inspection the night before.  Clearly we had.  I was about to confess to what I had done when Mom volunteered that she knew what must have happened.  She then regaled us with a story involving a truck carrying lumber/buildling supplies on Route 287 one night the week before as she was driving herself home from work and how - although she could not remember it having done so - it must have spilled a bit of its load, which load included of course the Magic Railroad Tie.  Neither Jill nor I said a word.  I volunteered to remove it from the rim for her (having earned my Merit Badge in Railroad Tie Extraction less than twelve hours earlier), which I did without difficulty.  The three of us then got into Mom's Chevette and drove to school.

Today is Jill's birthday.  Wilma has come a long way since the night that her little brother made her an accessory both before and after the fact.  She has come a considerable distance more than have I.  There have been times however when we have walked along the same path - including college.  When I graduated from W-H in 1985 I took the advice of Horace Greeley.  This young man went West - to Boulder, Colorado - where as a freshman I got to learn the ropes from my big sister.  Jill was just starting her junior year.  Between the year I entered kindergarten and the year I graduated from college, there were but four years during which Jill and I were not students at the same school:  my final two years of high school and my final two years at CU.

I know not whether in the course of their teenage years her two daughters - my two beautiful nieces -Simone and Julia ever conspired to put one over on her.  I suspect they did.  And I suspect that having assessed the situation and come to realize it was really no big thing, she permitted them to have their victory.

Much like Mom permitted us to have ours all those Septembers ago. 

Happy Birthday Wilma.  Love you lots. 


-AK

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tigers and Other Animals

I had the chance yesterday to catch up with a great, long-time friend.  Jill was there for me when we were kids and my father died.   

Earlier this year Jill's mother, Ellen, died. To no one's surprise, given the closeness of their relationship, her death has affected her daughter, who loved her mother deeply and misses her tremendously.  Jill's is an emotion with which I am in touch.  We talked about the fact that although we both miss our mothers, we were grateful for the relationship each of us had with our mom. It is a thing in which one finds comfort I reckon. 

I knew, the night before my father died that he was going to die, which is why I made sure to say good night to him and to tell him I loved him. We spent the last year of his life circling each other like two dogs in a cage.  We did not like each other very much. Yet, I listened to my gut that last night he was alive and made certain that I said a proper goodbye.  

Two Saturdays ago although she was in an impossible spot Kara made sure that she held her cell phone up to Mom's ear so that those of us who were not there with them could say our goodbyes to Mom. I blubbered my way through our all-too-brief conversation and after we said goodbye I stood on the front porch of my little house in Lake Como and cried myself almost into a convulsion. I cried so long and so violently that I felt physical pain-not simply emotional pain.  My heart was broken. Most of my bones felt as if they were also. 

A few short hours later, Mom was dead. As heartbroken as I was to hear that news, I took then and shall carry with me forever the comfort I felt at having availed myself of the chance to say goodbye and to tell her I loved her for the final time.  Had I pissed it away, for whatever reason, I would see nothing but the reflection of an asshole's face staring back at me every morning in my bathroom mirror.  

Thanks, Mom, for sparing me that embarrassment.  For looking out for me one last time...

...as you had every time before.

-AK

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Freezing of a Frame & the Tethering of Time

If the decision was mine to make,
and Time was mine to tether,
I'd snap a picture of this moment now
and freeze this frame forever...

I would if I could but I can't so I shan't.  

While in Florida last week, Kara, Jill, and I looked through a lifetime of Mom's memories, which she had preserved in photographs that I do not believe I had ever before seen.  Any number of them were extraordinary.  One, however, was something more than that.  It was stunning. 


Mom was born in 1928 and presumably she graduated from high school in 1945 or 1946 when she was seventeen or eighteen.  I know not whether you suffer from the same infirmity but I have difficulty imagining people who I know from a certain point in their life forward as they must have been prior to my making their acquaintance.  In an instant I was reminded that long before she was Mom, she was Joan Kelly. Mom as a kid.  Who would have thunk it? But there she is, with her perfectly-coiffed hair, smiling at the camera, immune still from the ravages and heartaches of life that awaited her as they await us all.  

Hers is a face that bespeaks, perhaps, innocence and, most certainly, a sense of hopefulness. She was born less than eighteen months prior to the onset of the Great Depression and was a World War II teenager, growing up not in "post-war America" but as war raged in Europe and in the Pacific. It is an extraordinary photograph.  I must admit that I had never thought about it until I saw it but Mom, herself, was part of the Greatest Generation.  In retrospect, I do not know why I would have ever thought differently.  There could not have been a more perfect fit. 

Yesterday, while I was at the office, Margaret and Joe spent some quality time with Suzanne and Maggie.  As she does during her daily visits to Suzanne's, Margaret sent me photos of "the Franchise".  I share them almost reflexively with Jill and Kara.  During Mom's final, eleven-day stay in the hospital, Kara would, in turn, share them with Mom.  It occurred to me before Maggie was born that there was an excellent chance that Mom would never meet her in person. I wanted to make sure that Maggie was not a stranger to Mom.  To that end, I bombarded her with photographs.  She loved them.  And she loved the great granddaughter whose acquaintance she never got to make. 

Margaret's "picture of the day" yesterday was one for the ages.  It starred Maggie and Joe, looking at one another with a look that says all that ever needs to be said.  A look that spanned four generations and eighty-four years as if neither was much of an obstacle. A look that said right there and then nothing else in the world matter one damn bit.  Not to him.  Not to her.  


In a world full of rough customers and less-than-pleasant experiences, it is nice to be reminded what love looks like.  And it always makes me smile when I see it.  

Yesterday, I smiled twice.  That is one hell of a good day.  

-AK 



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Toast to the Leader of the Band

Two Saturdays ago, my mother died.  She was eighty-eight years old.  This past Friday, Adam West ("Batman") died.  He was eighty-eight years old.  Mom was eighty-eight years old at the time of her death. Batman was eighty-eight years old at the time of his death.  Only one conclusion can properly be drawn from that evidence...

...Mom was Batman.  


Today is Mom's birthday.  Sorry, it turns out that it might take a bit longer than anticipated for me to convert my way of thinking to "today would have been Mom's birthday" and the like.  It will come, I suppose. It shall not come today.  Mom was ten days shy of her eighty-ninth birthday when she died.  What follows here, today, is what appeared in this space under much happier circumstances on this date last year and in 2015...

...although in the interest of full disclosure, the artwork to which I referred in these two pieces accompanied me home from Florida.

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2016


The Rock of Joanbraltar




Today, the hero of my life, the bravest person I have ever known, celebrates her birthday.  The indomitable Joanie K is eighty-eight years old.  

The warts that I have accumulated over the course of close to a half-century on the planet belong to me and to me alone.  I own my mistakes, my shortcomings, and my failures.  She does not.  However, but for her example - including but not limited to her refusal to succumb to panic when her world imploded first in May, 1981 when Dad died and then again in March, 1983 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was required to undergo an immediate radical mastectomy, my life would have followed a far different trajectory.  She was scared. I knew it.  She knew that I knew.  

Yet she never crumbled.  Everything I ever needed to learn about the distinction between fear, which can energize you, and panic, which can paralyze you, she taught me in those couple of years.  It was a lesson that I have carried with me every day since.  It is a lesson that I have tried to impart to my own two.  

It has been my pleasure and privilege to call myself "Joan Kenny's son" for almost fifty years.  I know not whether I have always proven myself worthy of that title.   I sure as hell hope that I have.  

She deserves nothing less.  

Happy Birthday, Maj!  

-AK

SATURDAY, JUNE 13, 2015

Candle Power

Hold on to your rosary beads
Leave me to my mischievous deeds
Like we always do...
-James McMurtry

It is an exaggeration to say that in the dozen and a half words that close out "Copper Canteen", which is the exquisite opening track on his latest CD Mr. McMurtry described the approach that Mom and I took to getting through my high school years, which happened to be the first four years following Dad's death.  An exaggeration?  Yes.  But not much of one. 

The incredible Joanie K. is celebrating a birthday today.  Presuming my arithmetic is correct, today is the eighty-seventh such celebration.  I cannot think of Mom and not smile.  She is without exception the strongest, bravest person I have ever known.  Qualities that are well-matched by a bottomless reservoir of humility and modesty.  

I suppose that it is at the very least an inconvenience to be a child and endure the death of a parent.  That was certainly my experience when it happened to me at age fourteen.  Had it had to happen however, I was fortunate in that had Mom died and left Dad and I to find our way together during my high school years, I have grave doubts that either of us would have survived the experience.  Dad was hard.  Mom was strong.  A distinction that is imbued with a considerable difference.  

For forty-eight-plus years, she has made a marked, considerable difference in my life.  Joanie K.  My mother.  My hero. 

And today, the birthday girl...


...and still the proud owner of the piece that represents the high-water mark of my career in the arts. 

-AK 


Monday, June 12, 2017

B-12

Yesterday, after the Missus and I migrated north from the beach, our home was graced by the presence of the newly-minted parents, Suzanne and Ryan, and Pop Pop's little princess, Maggie.  She is the human equivalent of a B-12 shot.  Seeing her did my heart good.  

And my heart, for one, certainly needs all the help it can get.  

-AK 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wave On Wave

Yesterday, after a long drive north from Florida, Kara, Jill, and I arrived at Kara's shortly after 6:00 am. We are Kennys.  We get an early start on the day. Jill and I hugged Kara goodbye and then continued on to Jill's home.  Jill and I unpacked her car.  Margaret met me there.  Jill and I hugged each other goodbye. 

By 11:00 o'clock yesterday morning, Margaret and I were sitting on our beach, in Belmar, watching and listening to the ocean and decompressing.  The beach was Mom's sanctuary. Her place of not simply happiness but of peace.  It is for me as well.  Yesterday, having said goodbye to Mom at her beach Friday morning, I was relieved to have brought her spirit with me to mine.

Where it shall remain for as long as I do.  

-AK

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Week That Was

Yesterday afternoon shortly after one o'clock, we pulled the door shut on Mom's apartment.  Kara, Jill, and I then took the elevator downstairs to the lobby, bid farewell to Tom at the front desk, and began the sad trek home. Mom had known Tom since she moved into the building eighteen years ago and although I only met him a couple of times, Mom and the girls always spoke fondly of him. As we turned in Mom's keys, Tom gave Jill a hug.  He told her that Mom was among the sweetest residents with whom he interacted. He then told us that Mom was always extremely sweet to him, which he appreciated.

Lest you think that what Tom said was just something one says to a child mourning a parent, consider that at dinner on Thursday night, our waitress froze momentarily when she saw Kara.  She recognized Kara from the hospital. Lauren, our waitress, had been Mom's nurse in the hospital prior to Mom's transfer to ICU.  When she asked Kara how Mom was doing and Stel informed Lauren that Mom had died, all four of us started to cry.  Our sadness was understandable.  Lauren's was explained by the fact that in the brief time Mom spent with her, Mom affected her.  I told Lauren that we get that a lot. She smiled. Leave it to Mom to make someone she barely knew smile.

One week ago Wilma and I began the long, sad journey south. Stel was already there with Mom in the hospital. We were only a couple of hours into our seventeen-hour journey when Stel called, in tears, to tell us Mom had died.  We spent the next fourteen-plus hours knowing we would not arrive in Florida in time to say goodbye to her. We then the next five days doing exactly that.

It was a tough week. The week that was. I look forward to being able to talk about Mom's dying without crying. I can write about it but lending voice to the notion is something that I cannot yet do.  Perhaps this shall be the week when that occurs. Perhaps. It is a process that I do not intend to rush.

-AK

Friday, June 9, 2017

Joan and June

Today is June 9. On this very date, sixty-six years ago Mom and Dad were married. They were ten days shy of their thirtieth wedding anniversary when he died on May 31,1981. Tuesday next, June 13, would have been her eighty-ninth birthday.  Born in June. Married in June. Died in June. That was Mom, a modicum of efficiency. 

In the six days since her death, I have felt her loss more keenly than I have ever felt Dad's, which occurred more than thirty-six years ago. That stems from, no doubt, that I had an incalculably closer relationship with Mom than I ever did with Dad. It also stems from the fact that Mom moved through this world with grace. She never sought to bend everyone's will to suit her purpose. She gave and she took, never unfairly and never more than she needed. It is for that reason that people who knew her not only respected her but admired her and loved her.  

As did I.  

-AK

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Parental Guidance

Earlier this week, when exactly I know not as the days have tended to bleed into one another, I swapped messages with my great friend Dave Lackland, one of the planet's superior human beings. We are both fifty years old. Each of us is a husband. Each of us is a father. He is not yet a grandfather but since Indy has not yet joined the "double numbers Club" I am guessing that Dave and Tessa are neither surprised nor disappointed by that fact. 

Each of us is, as Dave correctly pointed out, an orphan. Considering the plight of children all over the world orphaned at a tender, too-young age, no one's heart breaks for a fifty-year-old adult who falls into that category. Nor should it. While Dave has a certain inherent "huggable" quality to his personality, Daddy Warbucks would not touch me with a ten-foot pole, let alone hug me.

I understood Dave's point, which was not "poor poor pitiful us" but was instead an acknowledgement of the fact that irrespective of your age, when both of your parents die, your mooring gets a bit looser and uncertain. For a half-century, my life has been guided by a simple credo:  Do not do anything that will embarrass or disappoint Mom. A quarter-century ago, I expanded that list to include my wife and children.  Two months ago, I expanded it again to include my granddaughter.  Now, for the first time in my life, I move forward through this world without Mom. I know not how the story ends because I write a new chapter in it daily and know not when its final chapter shall be written.

Mom was unquestionably the greatest teacher I had or shall ever have. We shall now see just how good a student I am. Class is most assuredly in session.

-AK

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Magic of Mom: Loss and Found

I am an asshole. Were that it was not true. It is. I made peace with that fact years ago. In the course of my day-to-day I casually offend people, often times without even intending to do so. When your Delta Tau Delta name is "Does Not Play Well With Others" the opportunity for disaster presents itself early and often.

I have in this space written previously about my great friend, Alex, with whom I bonded like a brother during our four years together at CU, and the de facto termination of our friendship by him in apparent response to some offense I had visited upon him.  I know not what I did but I presume it was awful because Schneedz cut off all communication. E-mails sent to him were read yet elicited no response, whether extending a Birthday greeting or simply trying to catch up with an old friend.  

Monday afternoon, admittedly in an act of desperation, I sent Schneedz an e-mail to tell him Mom had died.  Alex knew Mom not just from our living together for three years but, also, from our having split time at my house in NJ and his house in New Orleans during Spring Break our freshman year.  I do not know why but I thought it important that my old friend know of Mom's death.  In part, I sent it figuring that when he did not reply to it, I would be forced to resign myself to the fact that whatever I had done to offend my old friend had caused an irreparable chasm in our relationship.

On Tuesday afternoon, at shortly after three o'clock, my phone buzzed. In my In-box was an email from Schneedz.  He expressed his condolences about Mom's death, filled me in on his current situation (leading a group of his students on a climb of Mt. Kenya), and to make a plan to catch up when he returns to the United States later this month. 

Once again, the magic of Mom.  Her wonders never cease. Thus reaffirming my belief that if you knew Mom and were not a fan of hers, then you need to look inward. The fault lies with you. Not her. 

Thanks, Majaloo. Again. Always. 

-AK

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Story of Pictures

Today Rob and Jess celebrate their third wedding anniversary. I am not 100% positive about this, but I think that her trip to New Jersey in early June three years ago might have been her final trip back to the State of Concrete Gardens.  Whether it was or not, it was one hell of a good trip for Mom. In addition to Rob's rehearsal dinner and wedding. Mom came north to celebrate Julia's high school graduation with Jill and Joe.  Mom present and bearing witness to milestone events in the lives of her grandchildren.  Of course she was.  Her being there was not only important to her grandchildren, and by extension her children, it was important to her.  An elixir that soothed everyone's soul. 

Yesterday was spent beginning the process of cleaning up Mom's apartment and making arrangements. Kara, Jill, and I are walking steps that countless people have walked before us and that countless others shall one day walk. No new ground is being walked. We are keenly aware of that fact.

We spent most of Monday looking at old photographs and other items that one part or another of Mom's six-headed adult offspring Monster gifted to her over the years.  We smiled. We laughed. We cried. A pretty full day.  Jammed with the type of relentless, forward-moving activity designed to make those engaging in it forget why they were here and the sad reason underlying the activity. 

Worry not. We did not forget. Nor shall we. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever. 

-AK   


Monday, June 5, 2017

An Era's End

On Saturday afternoon/evening, the indomitable Joanie K. bade farewell to this world. Her final scene played out as those that preceded it had, which is to say that it went precisely how she wanted it  to go. 

Mom was an extraordinary human being. I am blessed to have had her as my mother. She is the bravest, most resilient person I have ever met. I shall miss her for the rest of my life. I shall love her for at least that long. 

My hero. My rock. My mother.  Thank you for everything, Mom. Nothing I have achieved in my life would have been possible without the lessons you taught me. I shall carry them with me - as I shall carry your memory with me - every day for the rest of my life. 

Goodbye, Mom, and fare thee well.  May a favorable wind power your journey home.

I love you. I always will.

-AK


Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Good Day For Monster Stomping

This morning, if you are looking for something to do, or simply want to soak up some good karma simply by being in the company of several hundred people doing something wonderful, head over to Marlboro, New Jersey.  

Today is the 2017 Stomp the Monster 5K & Festival. Here are the event's particulars, including the how and where of race-day registration, starting times for the Kids Race, the 1-Mile Health Walk, and the 5K, and the all-important information regarding post-race festivities. 

Stomp the Monster is the New Jersey-based 501(c)(3) organization on whose team I ran in the 2016 New York City Marathon.  I shall, again, in 2017 run through the streets of New York City on November's first Sunday (presuming one affords "run" its broadest possible interpretation) as a member of Team Stomp the Monster.  They are great people doing incalculably important work.  Today, I shall be a member of their volunteer army, serving as a race marshal on the 5K course, helping runners stay on course and keeping cars off of it and off of them.  

If you are in the area and feel liking getting a bit of exercise for a good cause, then perhaps I shall see you there.  

-AK 


Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Watchmen

You may know - or perhaps not - that Memorial Day (May 29, 2017) was the 100th anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy.  As I presume you have heard by now, President Kennedy died conspicuously short of blowing out the candles on his 100th birthday cake.  If that news somehow has caught you unaware, then ask Siri to "use the Google" to do some research into the subject for you.  

On what turned out to be the final day of his life, President Kennedy was scheduled to deliver a luncheon speech at the Dallas Citizens Council. It is a speech of course he never delivered as he was murdered while driving through Dealey Plaza on his way to the engagement.  His speech, however, having been written, has lived on these past fifty-four years. 

In light of the present, toxic state of American politics and - more significantly - American governance (or lack thereof) it is nothing short of extraordinary to read what was on Mr. Kennedy's mind on that November morning more than one half century ago.  Among the things he intended to tell his audience was that no simple solutions existed for the problems then and there facing America.  "I want to discuss with you today the status of our security because this question clearly calls for the most responsible qualities of leadership and the most enlightened products of scholarship.  For this Nation's strength and security are not easily or cheaply obtained.  Nor are they quickly and simply explained.  There are many kinds of strength and no one kind will suffice."  In other words, resist the temptation to view the world you inhabit in black-and-white.  It is, in fact, many, many subtle shades of gray. To borrow a line from the great David Byrne, "Same as it ever was.  Same as it ever was."

I remain fascinated by those who this past November voted for a petulant, whiny, paranoid, charlatan who just happens to be a senior citizen with the expectation (I opted for a less judgmental word than delusion) that irrespective of the person he has repeatedly shown himself to be in the first seven decades of his life, he could somehow undergo an epiphany upon taking the Presidential oath. Actually, in fairness to the Cheeto-in-Chief, for whom I have no love and even less respect, the fact that he has remained faithful to his code is not a poor reflection on him.  He is human, after all.

I have long been fascinated by those who believe that human beings are wired in such a way as to be capable of great, life-altering, profound change.  Respectfully, I disagree.  Human beings are animals.  Animals are creatures of habit.  When push comes to shove, humans rely upon known behavior, ignoring whether prior reliance upon it resulted in a net positive or net negative outcome.  A fairly bright human, Albert Einstein, once observed that insanity is nothing more than doing the same thing over and over in expectation of a different result.  We are who we are.

On that terrible November day, President Kennedy intended to tell the luncheon gathering that:

Finally, it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad
than she is at home.  Only an America which practices what it preaches 
about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice
affects our future.  Only an America which has fully educated its citizens
is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden 
dangers of the world in which we live. And only an America which is growing
and prospering economically can sustain the worldwide defenses 
of freedom while demonstrating to all concerned 
the opportunities of our system and society. 

We in this country, in this generation, are - by destiny rather than by choice-
the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we
may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our
strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time
and for all time the ancient vision of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men."
That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must
always underlie our strength.  For as was written long ago: 
'except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.'

My first-born grandchild, Maggie, is twenty-eight days old today.  Lest anyone think for a goddamn minute that her Pop Pop intends to have 'waketh but in vain', I assure you that you are mistaken.  Man a post, if you have too have a protection-worthy future.  

I certainly fucking shall. 

-AK 


Friday, June 2, 2017

Little Feet and Big Shoes

It was eight years ago today that I heard a noise emanate from my father-in-law that I had never heard previously at any time in my life and that I have never heard again.  It was a hybrid - a melange if you will - of a scream, a sob, and a plea.  Joe emitted it within moments of having stood at the bedside of his bride, the indomitable Suzy B., as the last bit of fight left her tiny body.  If I live to be one thousand, I hope to whoever one directs such a hope to never hear that sound again.  Live it caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.  It still does merely by thinking about it. 

Much has happened in my wife's family in the eight years since her hero, her mother, died in the wee small hours of June 2, 2009. Four of her eight grandchildren have married.  Two of the four are parents.  Suzanne, the only daughter of her only daughter just became a mother for the first time. Margaret Elizabeth Aldrich entered the world on May 6, 2017, which entrance she made in the morning's wee shall hours.  As if she knew she has a legacy to uphold.  It is possible she knew.  She is a genius.  

What follows here is what appeared in this space on that terrible Tuesday (day after Monday) morning eight years ago.  If you have a moment, when you finish reading it (or perhaps you prefer to do it in lieu of reading it, which is perfectly fine too), click on the link and listen to Warren Zevon's final masterpiece "Keep Me In Your Heart".  If you had the privilege and pleasure of knowing my mother-in-law, then perhaps hearing Zevon's exquisite marriage of words and music, which he created for his own family after having received his own terminal cancer diagnosis, will conjure up a particular memory of her in your mind's eye.  Maybe that conjuring will lead to a smile.  Or maybe you did not know her at all.  It matter not.  Spending a couple of minutes in quiet contemplation will almost certainly lead you to think of your very own "Suzy B." - a loved one taken away from you far too soon whose memory - whose legacy really - remains inextricably tied to your day-to-day.  

A hell of a nice thought to conjure.  I think that my mother-in-law would think so too...

TUESDAY, JUNE 2, 2009

Next Stop - Pleasant Stream

At approximately 1:15 this morning, slightly more than eight months shy of her 50th wedding anniversary and ten months to the day since the death of her own mother, Suzanne Bozzomo - my Mom-in-law and one of this planet's truly beautiful souls, died. The little woman who stood bravely and defiantly in the face of always-advancing, never relenting cancer died in the presence of Suzanne (her oldest grandchild), Frank and Margaret (her two children), me (her son-in-law) and Joe, her husband and the great love of her life.

If all of us who walk this earth did half as much as Suzy B. did for those she loved - and asked for as little in return as she always did, then the planet would be a far better place. She lived her life by a simple creed - "Family first" - and not once, in the twenty years or so in which it had been my privilege and pleasure to know her, did she waver from it. She loved all of us, whether family by blood or by marriage, completely. She was an unabashedly enthusiastic supporter of her children and her grandchildren. Over the course of the past several years - even after she first was assailed by breast cancer (and perhaps even more so after that diagnosis was made in recognition of the fact that time was precious....and fleeting) - I cannot count the number of football games and/or wrestling matches I attended with her. And she was a frequent fan at basketball games involving one or more of her granddaughters, whether as a player or as a cheerleader.

Of all of the things Suzy B. was, perhaps her greatest attribute was that she was genuine. She did what she did, said what she said and felt what and how she felt regardless of whether it was the hip or cool thing to do. She worried not about being cutting edge - having learned long ago that after the edge is honed and the excess fluff is pared away the substantive part of the object, its meat as it were, remained. She was the meat, the substance in the lives of all she knew, all she loved and all who loved her.

And even in death, nothing changes. She will continue to be the substance in all of our lives - to be a presence for all of us to be guided by. Have a safe and peaceful journey Suzy B., you have most certainly earned it. We shall all miss you terribly and love you eternally.

Like buttons on a blouse indeed...

Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for awhile
If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile

When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for while
There's a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done
Keep me in your heart for while

Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-li-li-lo
Keep me in your heart for while
Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-li-li-lo
Keep me in your heart for while

Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house
Maybe you'll think of me and smile
You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for while

Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

Engine driver's headed north to Pleasant Stream
Keep me in your heart for while
These wheels keep turning but they're running out of steam
Keep me in your heart for while

Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-li-li-lo
Keep me in your heart for while
Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-li-li-lo
Keep me in your heart for while...





-AK

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Toast to Big Wishes



Being a parent - even when you are as decidedly unskilled at it as I have proven to be - is  a "24/7/365" job.  Once membership in the club is extended to you, you carry the card with you for the rest of your life.  Among the hardest parts of the gig is acceptance of the fact that, regardless of how much you want to do so, you cannot protect your children from all of the world's bad stuff.  

As they grow up to adulthood, you realize that the older they get, the more attenuated your ability is to do anything meaningful to protect them from all of the aforementioned bad stuff.  Their path in the world shall take them away from the familial home more likely than not and it shall be filled with potholes and pitfalls whose existence is never confirmed but is always presumed from the vantage point of the back door of the home in which you raised them.  With age comes, one hopes, wisdom regarding the ability to distinguish those things one can control from those things that one cannot.  It makes their presence no less scary mind you.  It might in fact make them more scary.  You know they are out there.  You lack the ability to protect your adult offspring from them. 

It is for all of those reasons that it warms one's parental heart when one's adult offspring marries well. Margaret and I are twice-blessed in that regard.  Suzanne and Ryan are exquisitely well-matched. Similarly, there is no better person alive who better complements Rob than Jess.  Each completes the other.   The feeling it brings to my old heart is not joy.  It is peace. 

Today, the extraordinary young woman whose great honor it is to call my daughter-in-law celebrates a birthday.  Whether I shall see the birthday girl today I know not although the Colorado branch of the family tree is spending this week within the geographical boundaries of the State of Concrete Gardens. I have already enjoyed more time with them this week than I have in the past year.  

May she enjoy it, however she spends it...

...and many, many more hereafter. 

-AK 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Ever-Broadening Gap Between Past and Present

Thirty-six years ago today, WPK, Sr. died.  I have run out of clever things regarding him about which to write.  Thus, in the interest of preserving the environment, today I shall recycle...

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