Thursday, August 31, 2017

Where Are These Better Days?




It should be simple.  It is not of course.  Those of us older than a certain age tell "remember when" stories of halcyon days before cell phones, before social media, before technology at our fingertips, and before instant everything was the watchword of the day.  Those of us under than a certain age, when being subjected to such a story, are as likely to roll our eyes and snort with derision as we are to wish - even for just a moment - that "the good old days" were primed for a comeback. 

The good old days were not always good of course.  And therein lies the rub - they never have been. Not once in the annals of recorded history has life been an extended study in uninterrupted bliss.  Maybe, way back when I was a teenager, life was not any simpler than it is now, although middle-aged me tends to believe that it was.  I know that it was quieter than it is now.  Periods of self-reflection were easier to come by back in the day when we were not all joined at the hip twenty-fours a day, seven days a week.  Technology is a powerful thing.  But it is what it is.  It can be both a boon and a bane. For every benefit it bestows upon us, it exacts a price in return.

I am not a man of religious conviction. The Lord and I have an understanding.  We steer clear of one another. I have absolute faith in two people:  the reflection that stares back at me in the bathroom mirror each morning and me.  I know not whether my approach to life is shared by anyone else and, if it is, whether it works for anyone else.  I know simply that it works for me. Even so, there have been times - too many to count in fact - when my particular brand of faith has been tested.  Sorely so, in fact, many, many times. Yet, a half-century further on up the road, it has never failed me.  Not yet anyway.

The string that connects us to our day-to-day - that enables us to hold onto a single blade of grass and successfully keep ourselves from falling off of the face of the earth - is a thin one.  Its strength is variable.  If it breaks, the break may occur so suddenly and so forcefully that no one - including those who love us most of all and who we love most of all - can foresee its occurrence or do anything to prevent it.  Once it breaks, it cannot be repaired.  It is, tragically, the bell that cannot be unrung.

And if that does not break your heart, then you might want to book a bit of time with the Wizard. He desperately needs to fit you for one.

-AK


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

That Which Neither Time Nor Memory Can Ever Fade Away

Time takes us wherever it takes us, I suppose.  For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, today it has taken me here...


Fourteen summers ago was the "Summer of Bruce".  Springsteen and the E Street Band were on the stadium portion of their extended world tour in support of The Rising and spent a considerable amount of time at Giants Stadium.  They played seven shows in July and three in August.  I practically lived at Giants Stadium that summer, seeing four of the seven July shows and all three of the August dates.  It was on that tour that Springsteen first began experimenting with the idea of "the Pit" - general admission, standing only viewing from directly in front of the stage.  Other than a rather small "Pit" area directly in front of the stage, the floor of Giants Stadium was filled with seats. I watched two of the July shows from the Stadium's floor and the other two from seats in the Stadium's lower tier.  

The first of the three August shows was my first "Pit" experience.  On the night that I moved Suzanne into her freshman dorm at Seton Hall University, I joined my old friend, Marc Wichansky, at Giants Stadium.  We had not seen each other in more than twenty years so while the rest of the "GA" ticket holders re-enacted the Oklahoma Land Rush to jostle for space down front, we moseyed down onto the Stadium floor shortly before show time.  When Springsteen and the band hit the stage, everybody in the Pit area except us moved forward.  We watched the show approximately fifty feet away from Clarence and Nils with an unobstructed view of both of them. 

In terms of seating, the August 30, 2003 show was the worst draw of the seven.  I bought tickets late and was only able to score a pair in the Stadium's upper tier.  In every other respect, it was the best show of the bunch.  Rob, who was a couple of weeks away from starting his senior year at Bishop Ahr High School, and I drove up to Giants Stadium on what was a drop-dead gorgeous August Saturday night.  Emmylou Harris dropped by to sing with Springsteen as did a young, up-and-coming band from Philly, Marah, with whom Rob was significantly more familiar than was I.  From first note to last, the music was pitch perfect. You need not feel constrained to take my word for it, either.  Here is the set list and the commentary upon it from the Backstreets web site: 

August 30 / East Rutherford, NJ / Giants Stadium
Notes: In the world of Bruce Springsteen concerts, some nights seem earmarked as special before the first note is even played. Whether it's a birthday show or the last concert of a lengthy stand, sometimes you just get a hunch. There weren't many good hunches flying around after Thursday's standard set, filmed by a professional crew. So Saturday night at Giants Stadium (night 9 of 10, if you're keeping score) caught quite a few folks off guard as Springsteen raised the stakes and had the crowd raising their hands in joy, gratitude, and disbelief. As the filming continued--with still no official word as to why--Bruce and the band busted out of the gate with the ultra-rare "Janey, Don't You Lose Heart," and established new possibilities for a Rising Tour that is most likely a month away from wrapping. Eleven songs not played the night before, ten songs in the encores, two special guests, tour premieres, rarities, dedications...this one had it all. Highlights (and there were many) included "Trapped," "Roll of the Dice," "Because the Night," and the second appearance of "Pretty Flamingo" since 1978. Springsteen dedicated the main-set closer "Thunder Road" to the family and memory of Jim Berger, who was killed in the September 11 tragedy. Emmylou Harris joined Bruce for a poignant "Across the Border," and the Philadelphia-based band Marah helped out on "Raise Your Hand." A special night for many, this seemed to be the show that said, "Hang on Philly, Jersey's back in town!"


Setlist: Janey, Don't You Lose Heart/The Rising/Lonesome Day/Candy's Room/Trapped/Empty Sky/Waitin' on a Sunny Day/Roll of the Dice/Because the Night/Badlands/Out in the Street/Mary's Place/Across the Border (with Emmylou Harris)/Into the Fire/Thunder Road

First Encore: This Hard Land/Raise Your Hand (with Marah)/Glory Days/Born to Run/Seven Nights to Rock

Second Encore: My City of Ruins/Land of Hope and Dreams/Pretty Flamingo/Rosalita/Dancing in the Dark

It was one hell of a night, not simply because of the music that was played but because of the company.  One day, your children are children.  The next day you turn around and discover that while you were busy living your life, they were doing precisely the same thing.  Childhood passes in an eye blink.  Before you know it, they are off charting their own course and making their way in the world. 

A memory is a nice thing to have.  It warms the soul... 




...irrespective of the temperature.

-AK 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rolling Over The Odometer

Five years ago this month I bought my present automobile, a Volvo S40 that Margaret refers to as a "big boy" car.  Coincidentally, I made my final payment on my car this month so after owning it on a cooperative basis with Volvo Finance (or whatever the hell the name of the entity is to which sixty checks were sent),  I now own it all by my lonesome.  

I enjoy driving my car and there is a reasonable likelihood in 150,000 miles or so, when I look to trade it in, I shall look to replace it with another Volvo.  It has served me faithfully through 150,000 + miles to date.  It is built like a tank and it handles beautifully in the weather that typically graces New Jersey between November and March.  In a perfect world it would be better on gas, which opinion interestingly is not shared either by Valero or the young man who mans the pumps at night at our neighborhood Valero station.

Approximately five years ago, what follows next appeared in this space as a "new" thought - if one interprets the word 'thought' in the broadest manner possible...

MONDAY, AUGUST 27, 2012

For All the World Like an Urban Toreador

Saturday afternoon I did something that I had not done in more than six years.  I bought a car.  My beloved sidekick Skate, which served me faithfully for slightly less than 166,000 miles, was retired in favor of a newer model.  

Margaret was thrilled - having commented for some time (slightly more than six years in fact) that I needed a "Big Boy" car, which Skate apparently was not coming equipped as he did with power nothing - except for steering (and mirrors).   A car of bones so bare that had Sally Struthers ever learned of his existence she would have filmed a series of infomercials imploring people at home to send him crates of food and nourishment.  

I spent the better part of the past several months doing some informal car shopping on-line.  For a considerable period of time I was leaning a particular direction.  Then I was pulled in another direction altogether.  After some time the process became - as most processes do - fairly tedious.  Friday morning I was at the office enjoying an early-morning cup of coffee when I decided to head off in another, heretofore uncharted direction.  It proved to be the final necessary course correction.

Margaret and I spent a remarkably brief amount of time at the dealership - probably about 75 minutes from start to finish inclusive of the time the two of us spent test-driving the car.  It was actually quite a pleasant experience.  Having perused their web site a day earlier I came to the dealership with a specific purpose:  to look at two vehicles.  No time was spent trying to goad me into looking at something else.  The focus remained where I wanted it to be.  Voila!  We were in and out in sufficient time to allow me to prepare my pork chops, potatoes and veggies for the grill for Saturday night's dinner.  Nothing gets in the way of my grill time.  Nothing.  

As I prepared dinner, Margaret prepared an advertisement for placement on autotrader.com.  We took a small handful of pictures of Skate - who I honored Saturday morning with a car wash AND a vacuuming (an indulgence that cost me an additional $1.25) - and placed our advertisement.  Less than twenty minutes after it went live, I received a phone call from a perspective buyer.  By 7:15 on Saturday night, Skate had been sold.  His new owner picked him up yesterday afternoon.   After his new owner left Saturday night - having taken Skate for a test drive - Margaret took one final photo of me and my ride as we hung out together on the driveway




If my new ride treats me as well as my beloved Skate did for the six-plus years we bopped around New Jersey's highways and byways, then I shall be a happy man indeed.  I hope that Skate's new owner gets good use out of my old friend too....

-AK  

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Shout Out To The Birthday Boy

A good man celebrates his birthday today.  Other than safely operate an ATV, there is nothing that Marc Wichansky cannot do. Well, dunk a basketball perhaps.  He is - as we say in the trade - vertically challenged.  

Here is to hoping that however he spends his day, he enjoys it immensely.  

-AK

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Foot Soldiers

It appears as if this weekend - the last weekend of August - will be the best weekend, weather-wise, of the summer.  I worked from the beach yesterday so I took full advantage of the weather during my sunrise run.  It was simply a beautiful morning to be outside.  And the rest of the day did not disappoint. 

The Franchise and her parents are with the Missus and me this weekend.  Suzanne, Margaret, and Maggie came down yesterday morning. While I worked, the three generations spent some quality time together on the beach.  What a wonderful way for the three of them to spend their Friday.  

This morning, before retiring to the beach for the day, I will take part in the Belmar Sol 5K.  I am a sucker for any race to which I can walk.  This one fits the bill.  

Hell of a nice way to spend a Saturday.  A little exercise and then some quality time with the family.  Good for the heart no matter how you look at it. 

-AK 

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Rendezvous on Wilder's Bridge


This afternoon an exceptionally strong woman, flanked by her family, her loved ones, and her friends, shall say goodbye to her son.  She is living through something that no mother - no parent - should ever have to experience.  She is burying her child - her only son.  

I shall see her this afternoon to add my well-intended but inconsequential for present purposes condolences to those to be offered by all who are present.  It is reflexive I suppose to offer such words at such a time, hoping against hope that they make a difference while realizing that they do not and appreciating why they cannot. 

At least not right now. 

A moment shall come at a time that right now she can neither see nor comprehend when the excruciating pain that threatens to consume her abates sufficiently to permit her to resume her day-to-day.  Permits her to continue to enjoy the love and support of her children, her loved ones, and her friends and permits her to live.  

A moment shall come, though she cannot yet see it nor pretend to hope for its existence, when she shall find her way to Wilder's Bridge.  And when she does, there she shall see her son, with his hand outstretched to greet her, and a smile on his face, waiting for her.  

Then, upon seeing him, she shall realize that he is where he has always been and where he shall always be, which is alive in her heart. Where he shall remain today, tomorrow, and always. 

The one place where she shall always be able to find him again...





-AK 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Forever Eleven

"There can never have been a better friend than Michael.
He was not just made a hero on September 11, 2001.
He was born a hero."
- Joseph Cammarata, Jr.

On May 3, 2001, Michael Cammarata took the oath as a firefighter in the Fire Department of the City of New York.  His uncle, Doug Bartucci, had retired off of the job after thirty-three years, during which he wore shield number 1138.  Uncle Doug's twenty-two-year-old nephew, Michael, inherited his shield. 

He completed nine weeks at the FDNY's Fire Academy when he was assigned to a fourteen-week training stint with Engine 28, Ladder 11 in Manhattan.  Nine weeks of the fourteen-week training program had been completed when he responded with Ladder 11 on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 to the World Trade Center.  Shortly before heading downtown with Ladder 11 he had telephoned his father and upon getting his voice mail, left his dad a message telling him where he was going and why.  He also told his dad, "Just tell everyone I'm all right." 

It turned out that he was not.  

Michael Cammarata, from the Huguenot section of Staten Island, was only twenty-two years young when he was murdered in the line of duty on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  None of his remains were recovered from the site that became known as Ground Zero. 

A decade before he died, Michael Cammarata played on the South Shore Little League All-Star Team that competed at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  The South Shore squad played its way to the United States Championship Game, which it lost, before bouncing back to win the third-place game against the squad that had lost the International Championship Game.  In 2002, Michael Cammarata was enshrined in the World of Little League Hall of Excellence, which is part of the Peter J. McGovern Museum in Williamsport.

Michael Cammarata
Ladder 11 - FDNY


Michael Cammarata, who was last seen rushing into the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, played in the 1991 LLBWS for South Shore Little League of Staten Island, N.Y. He is the first person to receive Little League's highest honor posthumously and the first firefighter so honored. His willingness to sacrifice his own safety for the safety of others made him the very embodiment of all three words in the Little League motto: character, courage and loyalty. After graduating high school, Mr. Cammarata attended college on a hockey scholarship. He left college to pursue his dream of becoming a firefighter in New York City. In a note he left in case he were to perish in the line of duty, he asked his family to "make my spirit live on." Little League hopes it has played a small part in memorializing the spirit and life of a true hero. 

The Little League World Series is being played this week in Williamsport.  The games are played in Howard J. Lamade Stadium.  When then-twelve-year-old Michael Cammarata played in the Little League World Series, he played right field.  In the summer of 2006, in time for the 2006 World Series, Little League Baseball retired Michael Cammarata's #11.  It now adorns the right-field wall at Lamade Stadium.  



Photo Credit: Steve Patterson

On the baseball field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, twelve-year-old Michael Cammarata played the position denoted as #9 in the official scorer's book.  He did so while wearing #11.  A decade later, in a final act of heroism, twenty-two-year-old Michael Cammarata rode with the men of Ladder 11 to his death at the World Trade Center.  The date, of course, was 9/11.  

-AK 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Bigger Purpose

Stop for a minute and think about how many times in your life you have either challenged someone to put his money where his mouth is or heard that challenge issued?  It very well may be a number beyond your ability to calculate.  I know that it is for me.  Then again, my arithmetically-challenged mind is a well-known quantity.  

Nevertheless, far too often in life a disconnect occurs between those things in which one purports to believe and the steps one is willing to undertake in furtherance of those convictions.  Anquan Boldin is, clearly, not a person who experiences that disconnect firsthand. He played wide receiver in the National Football League for almost a decade and a half, almost always at an exceedingly high level, and always with a commitment to converting his success on the field into an opportunity to make life better for others.  In 2016, he won the NFL's Walter Payton Award.  

Unsigned through the spring, Boldin had signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills less than two weeks before he announced his retirement.  The deal he signed could have paid him, with incentives, $2.75 Million this season.  He walked away from it, believing that he has something more important to do, and believing that there is no reason to delay moving forward with that work. 

I wish him well... 


Anquan Boldin's Statement on His Retirement


-AK 









Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eternally Wrestling

Life has a not-too-subtle way of reminding us that regardless of our current situation, somewhere there is someone wrestling with a problem that makes ours seem not so terrible after all.  It might be someone we know or it might simply be someone whose acquaintance we shall never make.  The relative proximity of them to us has no effect whatsoever on the depth and breadth of their problem but merely on our reaction to it and the degree to which, if at all, it affects us. 

It was seven years ago today that a member of the Westfield, New Jersey Fire Department, Firefighter James Pfeiffer, Jr., died while working at his home in Mountainside.  To the best of my knowledge, his path and mine never crossed.  Yet, when I read about his death, and his young widow, Christine, and the couple's one-year-old daughter, Carly, I felt compelled to write about him, the life he lived, those he loved, and those who loved him...

TUESDAY, AUGUST 24, 2010

A Fallen Hero

A thirty year old man doing yard work on a Sunday afternoon is supposed to enjoy dinner with his family on Sunday night. A thirty year old man who is a husband and a father of a one year old daughter should live a life long enough to grow old with the young bride who he loves and to watch his one year old grow into a young woman who he walks beside on the journey down the aisle on her wedding day. A thirty year old man is not supposed to die. Yet on Sunday afternoon, for reasons inexplicable, James Pfeiffer, Jr. died. He was apparently working from a ladder trimming a tree when a branch of the tree struck the ladder, causing him to be knocked from it and to strike his head on the ground. Pfeiffer was only thirty years old. He was a Westfield firefighter, having been a member of the Department since 1999. While I sought refuge in law school to escape hard math, my arithmetic is good enough to calculate that at the time he died Pfeiffer was already a veteran of more than ten years on the job.

At age 30, Pfeiffer spent more than one-third of his life in a career chosen by men and women who run towards danger while the rest of us head from it as fast as we can. According to the newspaper account I read, fighting fires in Westfield is the Pfeiffer family business. His great uncle, Norman J. Ruerp, retired as the department’s chief in 1970, and his uncle retired as a lieutenant in 2001. Three years later, Pfeiffer’s father, James Sr., retired as a captain. A family that devotes itself to the service of others deserves a better fate than to lose one of its own in the manner in which the Pfeiffer family has.


If the world was as just as it is unpredictable, then Sunday would be a day that the Pfeiffer family would long celebrate the day five years ago when James Pfeiffer, Jr.'s "beanpole" status permitted the happening of a miracle. Sadly it is not. It is a day that will be forever shrouded in sadness. A man who lived his life heroically deserved a better fate. And a longer life. As did his family.

When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.
And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;

-AK

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Disturbance in the Universe

It is a disturbance in the universe - a parent enduring a child's death and, thereafter, having to bury a child.  I am at a loss to think of anything in the world that breaks my heart as profoundly.  Except when that terrible event happens to a friend.  This weekend, exactly that happened.

A dear friend mourns the death of her son and prepares, accompanied by those he loved the most and those who loved him most of all, to say goodbye to him.  I am incapable of envisioning anything more gutting and more heartbreaking for a parent, for a mother, to endure. 

I have no words.  And if you know me, you know just how unusual that is.  




-AK

Sunday, August 20, 2017

When September Beckons...

Nothing of consequence about which to chat today. Simply looking forward to a nice long run this morning followed by several hours of sitting on the beach with the Missus.  We are staring down the barrel of summer's end.  September beckons.  As it always does.  

Where the hell did summer go?  

-AK

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Make the Most of Freedom and of Pleasure

Rumor has it that we might very well experience two consecutive sun-filled days at the Shore this weekend.  If you read this aloud, please do it in a whisper.  I do not want to be the one outed as "the Jinx" if something less stellar this way comes.

I spent the early part of yesterday morning (well, early by the rest of the world's standards, I suppose) arguing a summary judgment motion in Essex County.  The motion was successful, which hopefully served - if nothing else - to permit me to move this particular matter closer to the "closed file" stack.  Nothing in the world of litigation makes me happier than a closed file.  

I like winning.  I like winning quite a lot in fact.  I was therefore in a better-than-usual mood as I headed from court to the office.  After a brief conversation with my wife (a/k/a "Speed Racer"), I turned on the radio.  I flipped around the dial until I landed upon a song that I am a bit embarrassed to admit I enjoy as much now as I did when I first heard it thirty or so years ago.





The advantage of being simple-minded I suppose.  Happiness rarely eludes me...

...unless I work damn hard to avoid it.  Yesterday morning I made no effort whatsoever.  I am glad that I made that decision.  The woman next to me in traffic on Route 280, truth be told, seemed decidedly less enthusiastic.  Perhaps she was listening to a different station.  

Yes, that must have been it.  

-AK 



Friday, August 18, 2017

All That I Cannot Outrun

Last Saturday was a significantly more draining day for me than I had anticipated it would be.  A portion of the "drain" was physical.  Margaret and I attended a wedding on Friday night in West Orange from which we arrived home late (for us anyway).  We spent the night in Middlesex.  I woke up early and headed to Lake Como to pick up the gear I needed to run Saturday morning in the Asbury Park 5K, which had an 8:30 a.m. start time.  25:25.5 minutes after I started, I was finished in Asbury Park, back in the car, and on the road again. 

With the morning's tip-off event squarely in the rear-view mirror, I turned my attention to the significantly more important event of the day, which was Mom Fest at Taylor Pavilion in Belmar.  At some point, though (I think it might have been as I was standing in our outdoor shower cleaning up post-race) the significance of what we gathered to do on Saturday hit home for me.  Mom had no wake.  She had no funeral.  Those were her wishes and we honored them.  Saturday, for all of my cheeky references to it as "Mom Fest" was not simply a celebration of an extraordinary woman's life, it was a farewell.  It was a gathering not simply of "remember when" but of "until we see you again, Mom."  Once my eyes opened to that fact, which I simply had been denying I suppose while the arrangements were being made, it affected me far more than I had anticipated it would. 

Following Mom's memorial, I walked the twelve of so blocks home from Taylor Pavilion to our little Paradise by the Sea.  My great friend, Loku, who I first met in late August, 1986 when he arrived at CU as a freshman who lived across the hall from me, a sophomore, in Farrand Hall, came up from Georgia to pay his respects.  He walked home with me and once we got there we spent several hours out on the back patio with Margaret, Suzanne, Ryan, Jess, and Rob, telling stories.  

Happily, few and far between are the nights when I drink more than I should.  It represents a nice change of pace from thirty or so years ago when a night when I drank more than I should was a night that was part of a day of the week that ends in "y".  Saturday was such a night.  Nevertheless, I woke up at 5:00 or so Sunday morning and went for a run.  It was an incredibly steamy, humid morning.  To pay a bit of penance for having overdone the night before, after running the three blocks from home to the 17th Avenue Beach, I then headed south. What little air there was available to breathe was low-quality.  It did not matter. I pounded through it.  Finally, after I decided I had deprived myself of enough oxygen for one morning's run, I headed east to the waterline and ran the homeward leg of my journey there. 

Each of us has a history.  None of us is capable of moving fast enough to outrun it.  It seems to me that a better play is simply to acknowledge it, and to carry it with you, always moving forward but never forgetting the steps you took to get you wherever you are at a particular point in time.  


Boardwalk - 17th Avenue Beach 
(20 minutes or so prior to sunrise)


Sunrise over Spring Lake
(the sun did not get the memo)


Spring Lake
(approx. 10 minutes after sunrise)


King of the Jetty! 


Lifeguard Stand 
17th Avenue Beach

-AK 


Thursday, August 17, 2017

No Windex Required

Another journey in the WABAC Machine is on tap today.  Occasionally - and sadly far less frequently than I wish I could claim it does - I stumble back across something that has appeared here and think "Hey, that is not too bad."  Contrary to what some shall tell you about my belief in my own bullshit, it is not sacrosanct.  Not even I can pull the wool down far enough over my own eyes to believe that it happens on an infrequent basis.

What appeared here on August 16, 2014 is, in my always-less-than-humble opinion, something that still holds up.  Certain things have changed since its original date of publication.  For instance, I no longer refer to grandchildren in hypothetical terms. Maggie (a/k/a "the Franchise") is three and one-half months old.  Certain things have remained unchanged.  Rush Limbaugh remains a fat fuck and an asshole.  

I also believe that the larger theme of the piece remains true.  For me, anyway.  Perhaps for you also...

SATURDAY, AUGUST 16, 2014

From Here Inside My House Of Glass

Sometimes no Truth is more powerful
Than one expressed in Anger
By a melancholy Man.
- Pete Hamill

A departure from the regularly-scheduled programming today.  I do so, well because I use this space as I see fit and I see fit to do what I do and to write what I write here today.  I do so also in recognition of the fact that there may indeed be an interrelationship between what has occupied this space all week (and shall resume doing so, again, tomorrow) and what appears here today. 

Robin Williams died earlier this week.  He took his own life.  In the immediate aftermath of his suicide, not only did expressions of shock and sadness reverberate around the world, so did condolences for his children and his wife and, sadly but certainly not surprisingly, expressions of disappointment and even ridicule (Yes Rush Limbaugh you fat fuck and perpetual waste of oxygen that would otherwise be available for my yet-to-be-born grandchildren to breathe someday I am looking squarely at you) as to how one who seemingly had "everything" could commit suicide.  

The great facade of the age in which we live, the age of instant information, is that the more gadgetry and resources we have at our disposal the less connected to one another we sometimes become.  I point the accusatory finger not outward but inward.  For someone such as me, who has a day-to-day that the interruption of and deviation from is a cause of much consternation, the allure of social media can be intoxicating.  It requires little to no effort to maintain "friendships" via Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn or whatever hip service the kids are using today.  Ask yourself though whether these connections are actually contact or whether they are in fact something significantly less than that.  Now ask yourself these questions:  (a) How many of your Facebook friends have you never met; (b) For how many of them (without looking at their personal profile information) can you identify by name their spouse, their children and/or whether they have one or both of the above; and (c) When and where was the last time (presuming that you answered "Zero" to Question (a)) that you and this particular friend were somewhere together?  

Here in the age of instant information we know a little about a lot.  And not just "things" and "stuff" but each other too.  You cannot - as a matter of course - know what another is experiencing unless and until you put your feet into his or her shoes.  You cannot therefore - not without showing an absence of empathy that would make a sociopath blush - pretend to "know" what another is going through.  If you are sitting right now reading this and either mouthing to yourself of even saying aloud perhaps, "Yes I can" then do me a favor.  Stop reading right now.  Take your self-congratulatory, delusional bullshit someplace else.  Feel free to tell yourself whatever lies you need to get through your day-to-day.  You may not, however, do it here.   

Every day - for reasons that are exclusively their own - men and women of all colors, creeds, races and religious affiliations end their own lives.  Suffering is a human condition.  It belongs to all of us.  Life is inherently unfair.  If it was not, then we would not die at the end of it.  Inside each and every one of us there is a reservoir.  It, and it alone, serves to let us know just how much suffering we can withstand.  And much like us, the reservoir inside of us is not "one size fits all".    Maybe yours can hold a significantly greater amount of suffering than mine.  Maybe mine is bigger than yours and everyone else I have ever met.  I know not.  And neither do you.  We cannot. 

And it is because we cannot that we need to be a bit more judicious in our rush to judgment when things happen such as someone choosing to take his or her own life.  By the time I was eighteen years old, I had buried all four of my grandparents, a number of aunts and uncles and - the cherry atop the sundae of fun - my father.  Yet I had never been at a more somber, sullen funeral than the one I attended in the Summer of '85 for my friend and former classmate, Brian.  I did not know then - and I do not know now - what made a young man - hell a boy - of eighteen commit suicide.  And my understanding - or lack thereof - is as singularly unimportant today as it was twenty-nine years ago. 

Good people die by their own hand every day.  And a person's decision to end his or her own life makes that person neither a coward nor selfish.  It does however likely make the people who loved that person and whose lives have been directly affected by that person's decision profoundly sad.  And it is them - should we be among those who know them and can perhaps be of some comfort to them - for whom we should look to provide shelter and comfort.  We may not ever be able to understand.  But it does not mean that we cannot be there to listen and to offer support.  

Remember, the shoes you walk in are your own. 

Not mine. 

Not anyone else's. 

Not now. 

Not ever...  


-AK

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Speaking Frankly

I will spend a portion of my day today in Plainfield, meeting with a client whose located a short walk from the intersection of Park Avenue and 7th Street.  A lifetime ago, before I had a beard, gray or otherwise, the building that stands there, 705 Park Avenue, was the home to the first law firm at which I ever worked.  

Luckily for me, while I was toiling at my first lawyer job I came under the wing of one of the best gentlemen, lawyer or otherwise, I have ever known.  Frank DeVito was the goods.  A good lawyer and an even better human being.  My only regret when, in the summer of 1996, I left that first job for greener pastures, which in my case meant a pasture in which my paycheck did not bounce was that I no longer worked for and with Frank on a daily basis.  

It occurred to me last night, preparing as I was for this morning's client meeting in Plainfield that it was in early August several years ago that Frank DeVito died.  But for the wake for my mother-in-law, Suzy B., I have never seen a turnout for a wake like I saw at Frank's.  It took almost an hour for me to reach Josephine and the kids from the time I got out of my car - and I parked directly across the street from the funeral home.  

Last night, I came across something that I wrote seven Augusts ago in memory of - and in honor of - my friend and mentor, Frank DeVito.  For a man seven years gone but not forgotten...


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 4, 2010


The Eternal Frankie D.

Don McLean knew of which he spoke. Yesterday's paper did indeed drop bad news on the doorstep. A million years ago - or at least it seems that way sometimes - my first job out of law school was in a small plaintiff's PI shop in Plainfield. When I first started there - actually even before I was out of law school as I served as their law clerk (meaning I cranked out a lot of briefs, wrote a lot of motions and did a lot of on-line legal research courtesy of my free Westlaw subscription). I started working there shortly after the beginning of my final year of law school and upon graduation - and after having sat for the Bar - I formally joined the firm. It was while I was in the employ of a shop then known as Frost & Rhodes that I found out I had passed the Bar Exams of Pennsylvania (November 16, 2004 upon returning home from Boston where I had spent the day with the firm's senior partner Jack Frost doing some investigative work on a case) and New Jersey (Pearl Harbor Day - drove home at lunch from the office to check my mail). It was as a newbie at that firm that I took my oath and formally became a member of the Bar. 

Ours was a little shop, more often than not maddeningly short on non-essential things such as funds to cover payroll and to keep the lights on, but loaded to the gunwales with colorful characters. That first Christmas Margaret and I were invited to the party that Jack and his partner Kirk Rhodes threw for the attorneys, staff and family. It was at that party that they announced that Frank DeVito had made partner. Everyone in our little group cheered loud and long. Frank was just one of those guys. Once you met him, you knew him forever. And once you knew him, you flat-out loved him.


From my pre-lawyer beginnings in the Fall of 1993 through June 1996 I worked at the firm that had given me my start in the law. I learned an awful lot while there - a lot of it good, a lot of it bad and all of it incredibly interesting about the law and the business of practicing law. The best part about my time there was that I got to work daily with Frank. Frank was in charge of the office's personal injury practice (we represented only plaintiffs) and worker's compensation practice (we represented only petitioners). We would meet in his office at day's end pretty much on a daily basis to review the day that was and the next day. There is a line in Springsteen's No Surrender, "We learned more from a 3-minute record than we ever learned in school" that aptly sums up what those daily skull sessions were like for me. Frank knew how to practice law. He did not pretend to be the most scholarly guy in the world and he carried himself with no artifice or pretense. But he knew what a case was worth, what it could be resolved for, the difference between the two and how to secure the former - and not the latter - for our client.



His ability to schmooze and to win people over benefited not only him. I became his tip of the spear guy for a lot of municipal court work that we took in and invariably before sending me off to battle on behalf of a client who probably deserved better than a still wiping the soap from behind his ears rookie, he would pen a note on the back of his business card addressed to the Municipal Prosecutor in the town where I was going. Nothing elaborate. Just a quick hello and a "be good to my boy" type of thing. Some of the best deals I have ever struck in municipal court were clinched upon a prosecuting attorney saying, "You work for Frank? Tell him I said hello. Now what are we going to do here?" or words to that effect. Once you met him, you knew him forever. Once you knew him, you flat-out loved him.



The advantage to being a newbie in a small, unpolished, trench warfare type of law firm (think "The Practice" circa Season One) is that unlike a number of my fellow newbies I got dropped into a vat of fire immediately. No one hides a newbie in a small firm in the rear office. Nope. You are sent off to defend depositions, take depositions, argue motions, appear at arraignments, negotiate settlements, negotiate plea deals and just about everything else under the son. And you are sent to do it before the ink has dried on the fancy law license the State of New Jersey gives you to display in your office.



Frank taught me the ropes with a velvet touch. I made more mistakes than I would care to admit - though I shall long remember them - and each one regardless of its slightness or its heft would cause me to seek his counsel. He was a priest and rabbi all rolled into one. No matter what I did - including when what I did created a mess that he would immediately have to clean up behind me - he would send me out to battle every day with the same credo, "Do your best and do your best to not commit malpractice" and he would send me home every night with the same pep talk, "You did not commit malpractice today. Tomorrow you will get up and do then exactly what you did today. Now go home." 



My favorite memory of Frank is from shortly before I left the firm in June 1996. We used - as a lot of businesses do - postage paid reply envelopes. However, because we had failed to make timely payments on our account with the Postal Service and had not in fact paid the postage that was due and owing on those envelopes, we went a period of slightly more than 45 days in which we received none of them. Finally, upon paying the past due amount we were able to pick them up at the Post Office. A lot of them contained a Release that a client had signed to settle his or her case, which settlement had been held up by the fact that the signed Release had never been sent to the insurance carrier and/or to the defense attorney. How could it? It was trapped in limbo at the Post Office. Frank and I spent the better part of three days not only matching up Releases to resolved matters but then talking to insurance adjusters about how quickly we could get the settlement funds once the Release was received and - more than once - popping over to a claims office with the Release in hand to get a check issued while we waited. Check in hand, we would then endeavor to locate our client so that we could get the check signed and deposited into the bank so that we could thereafter issue a check to our client.



As part of our blitzkrieg operation we had to go door-to-door in the projects in Plainfield attempting to track down a client who we discovered had moved at some point after he signed his Release and sent it back to the firm. There we were, two white guys in dark suits wandering around a high-rise complex calling out the same name over and over. Bringing up the image in my mind's eye I never fail to think of Aretha Franklin in The Blues Brothers Movie when Jake and Elwood wander into the place she owns with her husband Matt "Guitar" Murphy and order lunch. Trust me when I say that the description of, "two honkeys who look like Hasidic diamond merchants" fit us - one a middle-aged Italian and the other a young Irishman - to a "T".



And the funny thing about all of our great adventures and misadventures was that we got done what we needed to get done......including getting our "lost" client to come to our office within a day or two of our hard-target search for him to sign his settlement check so that we could get him his money and ensure that the firm collected its fee.


Frank D. DeVito died on Monday. The obituary reports that he was a place he loved, home, surrounded by those he loved and who loved him the best, his family, at the time of his death. He was an extraordinary man for a million reasons that might - if taken alone - strike you as being eminently ordinary. I learned a lot from Frank during my "apprenticeship". I learned a lot about being a lawyer. I learned a lot more about being a man. About accepting both good fortune and tough luck with grace and with dignity.


Safe journey Frank. And many thanks. I owe a debt that I shall never be able to pay in full. But tomorrow is another day. And I shall be back at it. Continuing to apply lessons learned. Learned from a man I was fortunate enough to meet when I was young. A man who I was fortunate, upon meeting him, to know forever....and, well, you know the rest of the story.

-AK

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Rose of Belmar



Saturday evening I walked home from Mom Fest.  My friend, Loku, and I walked home on the Boardwalk from Taylor Pavilion.  I took note of when we passed 14th Avenue.  I have a very good friend, Tom, who lives on 14th.

Today marks a sad anniversary for Tom, his fellow 14th Avenue residents, and everyone who knew Mark Oberschewen or his father, Bill.  On August 15, 2016, Mark and Bill (as well as Mark's dog, Tickles) were killed in a fast-moving fire that gutted their 14th Avenue home. Mark was just forty-nine.   He doted on his two kids, Michael and Gina.  A good man, he deserved a better fate than Life bestowed upon him. 

-AK 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Spot On...




A thank you to one and all who joined us in Belmar on Saturday afternoon to celebrate Mom's life.  Thanks too to everyone who - although unable to make it to Mom Fest - communicated good thoughts to us for Mom.  

For me, the highlight of the day was Kara's impromptu, pitch-perfect tribute to Mom.  What started out as her thanking everyone who had come for being there quickly turned into something more.  Much more in fact. Stel is - and has always been - the embodiment of Mom.  

Saturday as she spoke, Mom smiled.  And probably teared up at least a little.

As did I.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The World According to Mariano...

As luck would have it, the Colorado branch of the family business awakens today here in the State of Concrete Gardens.  Rob and Jess have spent a few whirlwind days here in the Eastern Time Zone, at a speed not unlike that associated with most of their all-too-brief sojourns "home", celebrating, on Friday night, the life that Jess's sister, Sara, and her brand new brother-in-law, Joe, have just begun and, then, on Saturday afternoon celebrating the life that my mother lived, which ended earlier this summer.  

This time last year, Rob was not within the geographical boundaries of the great state of New Jersey but he was on my mind, as he tends to be frequently.  On this very date last year, I wrote what is reprinted here today.  I liked it enough the first time to rerun it.  I shall defer to you whether your level of enthusiasm matches mine.  Whether it does or not, your secret is safe with me...



SATURDAY, AUGUST 13, 2016

Not Playing But Still Winning


Mariano Duncan
1996 New York Yankees

Today in the Bronx the Yankees are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of their 1996 World Championship.  Their playoff appearances, including World Series victories, would blossom into something close to ritualistic for close to the decade that followed.  However, in 1996, the World Series they won when they roared back from a 2-0 Series deficit to defeat the Atlanta Braves in six games, Joe Torre's team was making the franchise's first Fall Classic appearance in a decade and a half.  What would in relatively short order take on the appearance of being ordinary was certainly anything but in October 1996. 

There are any number of memories that are emblazoned in my mind's eye from that season.  That October's big moments belonged in equal measures to Jeffrey Maier and to Jim Leyritz.  The Torre Family did it all:  Joe managedFrank convalesced, and Sister Marguerite prayed.  And for the first time in almost two decades, a Yankees' season culminated in a parade up the Canyon of Heroes. 

But what makes me smile the most at the memory of the fall of 1996 is Rob.  He was ten years old and had just started to acquire a taste for baseball.  Towards the end of that summer, on Fan Appreciation Day, he made his first trip to the Stadium.  On a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox in extra innings.  A skinny, baby-faced rookie shortstop named Jeter drove in the the winning run.  

Rob and I lived and died with the Yankees that post-season.  It was his first year in scouting and the weekend of Games Three, Four, and Five of the ALCS in Baltimore, his troop had a camping trip to Picatinny Arsenal.  While we had no television on which to watch the games, one of his fellow Scouts had a radio, and quite a few of us, dads and sons, sat together at our campsite and listened to the games. 

A hell of a lot has happened in the twenty years since Charlie Hayes squeezed the final out of Game Six into his glove.  A lot of it has been good.  Quite a bit of it has been decidedly less so.  Neither the passage of time nor how I feel on a particular day when I get out of bed shall ever dampen or diminish my memory of that baseball season.  That team.  That experience that I had the chance to share with my son.  

Thanks again, Joe, for what you and your team accomplished.  The World Series Rings are yours alone but the memories?  They are available for all of us to savor.  

-AK  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Toasting The One Who Kept Me From Crawling Through


Joan Marie Kelly Kenny
"Mom" (06/13/28 - 06/03/17)

On the sixty-eighth day following Mom's death, which came on the three hundred and fifty-fifth day of her eighty-eighth year, her life shall be celebrated.  This afternoon, beginning at four o'clock, a Celebration of Mom's Life will happen at Taylor Pavilion in Belmar.  All of the pertinent information regarding said celebration is here.  The theme is celebratory.  The dress code is casual.  Taylor Pavilion is located on the beach in Belmar between 5th and 6th Avenues so I recommend wearing shoes that can be easily removed should you desire to walk barefoot in the sand. 

Today is a day to which I have looking forward with anticipation and anxiety.  Mom is the great hero of my life.  She is the person from whom I learned that strength and volume are not inexorably linked concepts.  She is the one who taught me the importance of never panicking, an ability that can in fact save your life.  It has saved mine.  More than once.  Mom instilled in me the importance of being true to your own code of conduct and the importance of discounting the noise generated by the uninformed.  It turns out that ignorance is not only blissful, it is often loud.  

Ours was a unique relationship. Dad died at the end of the school year when I was in eighth grade. He left no life insurance (his multiple heart attacks made him a risk no carrier would insure) and no will, while taking with him roughly 80-85% of the income on which our household depended.  By the time I started eleventh grade, Mom and I were the last and the second to last of the Mohicans. I had a birds-eye view of just how tough her day-to-day was.  I lived it right along side of her. 

It was an unrelenting grind, the harshness of which we chatted about regularly over dinner, a meal that three night a week consisted of such delicacies as bologna sandwiches or scrambled eggs.  She was afraid of course.  I was too.  Yet she not only controlled her fear, she harnessed it into the energy necessary to keep on keeping on.  It never manifested itself into panic.  It was then and there that I learned - from watching her - that fear and panic are not interchangeable concepts.  Fear energizes. Panic paralyzes.  Mom spent eighty-eight-years-plus fully energized. She spent not one goddamn moment paralyzed.  

Mom is the great hero of my life.  Yesterday.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Forever...


 


...and may I honor her always by carrying with me the lessons she taught me for however long I may live. 

-AK