Archive | February, 2011

Knight in Shining Armor

24 Feb

Jeff has always looked out for me, even during the earliest days of our acquaintance.  Back in late April 2009, after a long night of conversations and shenanigans at one of KDR’s ‘Thursty Thursdays,” I was presented with the arduous task of making my way back to my room.  MiddRides had stopped running long ago and, unfortunately, the brothers with cars were in no state to drive.  And so it was that Jeff, a KDR brother, and I found ourselves making the walk together back to campus.  I don’t remember too much about that walk save for the fact that Jeff and I spent pretty much the entire time trying to trip and shove one another off the sidewalk.  Even in my hazy state of mind, though, I had no problem remembering what happened next.

We’d just dropped Sarah off at her dorm, and I was making my way towards Forest Hall when I noticed that Jeff was not headed towards his room in the Atwater Suites.  “Don’t you live in the opposite direction?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I have to make sure you get back safely first,” he replied.  Obviously I was crazy for even thinking that he would do otherwise.

At this point, I’d known Jeff for a grand total of two weeks.  This particular Thursty Thursday marked only the second day that I’d spent in his company.  But as many here have noted, he was chivalrous to the core.  Sometimes it does not take long to know a man and to take his measure.  In that moment, through those simple words and that one simple act, I realized that Jeff Klein stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Even now, I have moments where I feel him with me.  Recently, I had a rather harrowing experience.  As I’ve told Rich and Julie, though, it wasn’t all so bad.  While it was happening, I was overcome with a deep certainty that Jeff would never let anything bad come my way.  He didn’t, and he won’t.

I am not a very spiritual person by nature, but there has been no doubt in my mind that I have a guardian angel up there looking out for me.  Like AB has said, I believe that Jeff knows when we are thinking of him.  Sometimes my mind will wander in some ridiculous way and I always find myself whispering a silent apology to Jeff for subjecting him to my strange thoughts.  But for now, I hope with all my heart that he knows how much I love and miss him.

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Still Making His Presence Known

18 Feb

As I stood in a daze greeting the long line of friends and family at Jeff’s wake, one of our church’s most active members pulled me close to him and, in very measured and clear words, said the following: “over the next few months, Jeff is going to make himself known to you, both in subtle ways that perhaps only you and your family will recognize, but also in ways that everyone who knows him will recognize.  So be on the lookout for him.  I promise you it will happen.”  What a crock of shit, I remember thinking at the time.  I thought it was a stupid thing for someone to say in an attempt to make me feel that, in my darkest hour, I hadn’t totally lost my son forever. He would make himself known to me somehow.  Give me a break.  That was on November 12th, 3 days after Jeff died.

So there I was, just two days later on Sunday, November 14th, staring at but certainly not watching the Giants-Cowboys game, a big divisional game that just a few short days earlier, I was sure Jeff and I would be watching together in our upstairs TV room where we had taken in countless games together over so many years.  Drew had headed back to school, Brett was trying to concentrate on homework, and Carey is not a football fan, so I was alone in my grief and depression. In my semi-comatose state, I heard the announcer say that the Giants were down 19-6 at halftime and that they looked awful.

And then it happened.  After the very first play of the second half, Jeff had clearly seen enough.  At exactly 6pm on Sunday November 14th, there was a flash and several sections of lights atop the stadium went dark.  The new Meadowlands Stadium was in semi-darkness.   Nonetheless, after a brief delay, they decided to play on without half the lights.  Two plays later, Jon Kitna of the Cowboys hit Felix Jones with a screen pass that turned into a ridiculous 71 yard touchdown and a 26-6 Cowboys lead.  Jeff must have been beside himself with anger, because 5 plays later, the remaining stadium lights went out.  The Meadowlands was PITCH BLACK.  Jeff Klein had turned out the lights on the Giants-Cowboys game.  He could not watch this dismal Giants performance any more.  There is no other plausible explanation.  Yes, I know it was a new stadium, but this was not an early season game.  This was their 5th regular season home game, and any new stadium kinks had long ago been worked out.  Jeff was pissed, plain and simple, and so he turned out the lights.  That was the first clear sign that his spirit was alive and well.


And here’s a broadcast clip from when it happened-Joe Buck and Troy Aikman sound stunned, but if they knew Jeff….

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/09000d5d81c1d3e5/Lights-go-out-at-Meadowlands?r_src=ramp

The next sign ?  The winter of 2010-11.  Snow.  Record amounts of it.  Snow days.  Let me explain: Sure, all kids love and pray for snow days, but Jeff took the excitement of anticipating, praying for and enjoying snow days to a whole other level.  He craved them, lived for them as a kid, and even tracked storms on weather.com.  To give you a sense of how big a kick he got out of the whole snow day phenomenon, he even tracked storms when he moved back home after college to try to predict when Brett would have a snow day.  He would even slip a note with the good news under Brett’s door before leaving for work  And perhaps his biggest snow day thrill came when he was a young adult when his employer, Weil Gotschall, actually closed the firm for a snow day during the late February blizzard last year.  He was downright giddy when that happened.  Given all this, there is not a doubt in my mind (and Carey is 100% convinced too)  that Jeff has had a hand in the incredible snowfall totals and numbers of snow days this winter.  January 2011 set the record for snowfall totals in NYC, breaking the record that was previously set in 1925.  There were 7 snow days in Chappaqua in that one month alone.  This is no coincidence, folks.  Carey and I have no doubt that he has been involved in making it happen.

Brett & The Snowman in the Blizzard of 2010


And if all of the above isn’t convincing enough, the most recent evidence of Jeff’s presence turned up in the Horace Greeley High School gym on the evening of February 8th.   It will be known as The Shot.  And no, Jeff’s friends, I’m not referring to a strong drink, which is the first thing you’d think of when the word “shot” appears anywhere near Jeff’s name.  No, here’s the story of The Shot.   Brett is an outstanding basketball player, yet he hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to play during this year’s varsity season.  That is, until February 8th.  He had been playing extremely well in the practices leading up to that game, and so the coach finally gave him a chance.  And Brett proceeded to “go off”, as they say in the basketball world.  He lit up the gym with his performance, scoring 19 points (including 4 for 5 from three point range) to lead Greeley to a come-from-behind victory over Harrison.  The story can be found here: http://www.newcastlenow.org/index.php/article/new_boys_varsity_basketball_quakers_bounce_back_from_port_chester_loss_to_d

Of Brett’s six baskets, five were perfect swishes.  Then there was The Shot, which occurred in the 4th quarter when the game was tight.  Brett launched another 3. this one  more of a line drive with less arc than the others.  It hit the back of the rim hard, then ricocheted off the front of the rim, and 99% of the time a shot like that would have surely rattled out of the hoop.   But this time the ball just kind of hung in the air over the hoop, almost as if it was deciding where to go next.   In an instant if fell straight down with some force, as if thrust through the net by an invisible hand.  Oh, an invisible hand ?  Wonder who that could have been.  Jeff always adored his little brother, and there was no way he was about to let the ball rattle out.  In the car on the way home that night, Brett and I discussed The Shot, and he readily agreed that Jeff took care of that one.  Once again, there was no other plausible explanation.  Here is a Youtube clip of The Shot.  You be the judge:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U16Pp7Smp9o

And last but not least came the dream.  I have literally prayed every day since his death for Jeff to come and talk to me in a dream.  I mean, people dream about their loved ones all the time, right ?  I thought it was a reasonalbe request.  But for nearly 3 months, there was nothing.  Zilch.  Until last week.  It was the most vivid dream I have ever had.  My dream started with me on our cordless phone .  While talking, I looked out the front door and saw a police car pull into the driveway.  Two police officers carried Jeff out of the car, one holding him under the armpits and one holding him by the feet.  To my horror, they dropped him at our front door and left.  When I opened the door, he was alive and conscious, looking straight up at me with a face that was scratched and bloodied.

I looked at him straight in the eyes and screamed pleadingly, “Jeff, you CAN’T leave me.”  He looked right up at me, and in a respectful yet firm tone, he said, “Dad, I can do whatever I want.  It’s my choice.”  And with that, I woke up and the dream was over.  I was distraught, because I desperately wanted the conversation to continue, to learn more, but it was not to be.  The dream was, however, crystal clear, and so was his message.   Jeff made a choice based on what he alone felt inside.  None of us will likely ever understand or make sense of it, and I will need to come to grips with that some day.  But my prayers were answered, and he did speak to me, even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.   It is further proof that he is still with us and communicating.

Until now, I have spent so much of my time searching for answers that don’t exist.  Perhaps, though, if Jeff continues to periodically make his presence known to us in these ways, I can soon refocus my energy and thoughts to looking forward to those times when I see something happen and can say to myself with a smile, “There’s my boy.”

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree

12 Feb

Dear Kleinsaucer (aka Klein, Saucer, Kleinsauce, Sauce Man, Kleinsasser, etc.)

How is it up there man? I miss the hell outta you. A couple weeks ago your dad (who is the absolute MAN, by the way) wrote a post on this blog in the form of a letter to you. I thought that was a great idea, and decided to give my own rendition. So here are my thoughts, 3 months after your untimely passing, in no particular order. I know you’ll appreciate them.

I want you to know that I don’t blame you for doing what you did. You were sick, and I truly believe that it wasn’t the Kleinsaucer I know and love that made the decision. You know you had a support system, amazing family and absolutely adoring friends, but I take a small amount of solace in knowing that you went out the way you wanted to go out, on your terms. You’re a man of conviction, Klein, and when you want to do something you really do it, and never want to show weakness. Tragically in this situation, that trait worked very VERY much against you.

I like to think of myself as a generally positive person. That’s why whenever something big happens to me, I try to have something good come out of it. And while none of this would ever compare to having you back, I’m sure in some way you appreciate SOMETHING positive coming out of your decision. So here they are:

Good Things:

  1. The amazing relationship I’ve formed with your Dad. I knew this to a degree before from our interactions during your life, but your Dad is just one of the coolest, most fun and interesting people I met. No wonder you’ve got such an amazing sense of humor, keen intellect, intelligent love of sports, generous nature and laid back demeanor. We watch the Greeley Basketball games together now, and it’s something I truly enjoy. It makes me feel closer to you, when I hang out with him, and I’m sure it’s gotta be the same for him. You guys look just so much alike, have the same mannerisms, voices, you’re so similar. Like I mentioned during your Memorial Luncheon, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. (Classic colloquialism)
  2. I’ve become a lot closer with some of your closest friends. In particular, I have become really good friends again with Brooke and Julie, who are some awesome totally fun girls – no wonder you stayed in touch with them! Thank you for reintroducing me to them, I know now that I’ll be friends with them for life. I’ve also become good buddies with your best friend from school, Andres. He’s a great guy and I can see why you guys tore it up together and were partners in crime at Middlebury. The same goes for Thao who has been really fun to hang out with the few times I’ve gotten the opportunity to. And of course I knew Lonnie and Jack during your life, but your loss brought us together and gave us shoulders to cry on, and they’ve been able to provide copious hilarious stories to laugh about, stories like the ones posted on this page. And people like RDub and Vank, who I’ve always been tight with, I’m even tighter with now. I’ve noticed that nothing brings people closer together than the loss of a mutual friend. It sucks endlessly that something this drastic needed to happen for this to occur, but like I said, small positives are something that have helped me cope with this whole ordeal.
  3. I appreciate my friends more. I appreciate strangers more. I appreciate life more. I see the world in a new way now. I am no longer young and naïve, but a realist, battle-tested. I know now better than ever that life is precious. It’s hard for people our age to think about their own mortality (even for me, and I work with Life Insurance). I am lucky enough that I went 23 and a half years of my life without the loss of someone very close to me. After this happened, I learned to really value all the great people that I have in my life. I am thankful for the simple fact that all these great friends and family are on this earth, and I can talk to them, hang out with them, learn from them, things I can no longer physically do with you (though your death has clearly taught me a great deal). I thought I appreciated life before, but your loss made me even more thankful just to be here and among the people I love.
  4. I now know how to cope with death. I know that next time I lose someone close to me, it will be easier. And I can help friends mourn losses of their loved ones. I feel more mature. I feel more grounded and more worldly.
  5. I’ve learned more about you. Sharing stories like the ones on this site have helped me learn more about areas of your life that I didn’t know, like your life in Middlebury and your family life at home, stories that may not have come up normally.
  6. Now, you are always with me. Whenever something funny or interesting happens in my day that makes me think, “Wow, I wish Klein was here to see this,” now you actually ARE there watching from above. I find it comforting. Now I can speak to you in my mind and know that you are listening.

So even though as you can see, I’ve taken some positives from your death, you know I’d give it all back in a heartbeat to have you back. That goes without saying, but I thought I’d mention it again anyway.

Now that it’s been 3 months, you’re still on my mind non-stop. I think about you every day. I see you when I close my eyes. When I’m at Club Fit I still look for you to pop your head in and flash your bright loveable smile. Sometimes I think I see you, then double take, and realize they only look like you. You pop into my head at the most random (rando) times.

After about a one month hiatus, me, BH and Reisner started playing racquetball again. It was definitely very hard for me to get back into that small, very personal room, to play the game we loved to play together, but I’m back and it feels great. Makes me feel closer to you. Because I know you’re there with us spectating. Boy do I miss that teardrop shot of yours. It’s almost comedic. I think I may try and incorporate it into my repertoire. I’m also looking forward to taking on your Dad, who played against Jack and Lonnie a couple weeks ago.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that I tend not to want to talk to people about you that weren’t close to you. I feel like it’s hard for other people to relate to what I’m going through if they weren’t close with you. I tend to shy away from talking about it when such people bring you up – I know they mean well, it’s just some complex I have in my head I guess.

I speak about you most frequently with your dad and with Brooke and Julie. I think all of us find it therapeutic to talk about you, share classic stories, cheer each other up when we’re feeling particularly down about you. I’ve definitely noticed that you aren’t brought up in casual conversation as much any more. It’s almost as if talking about you is “off limits.” Well I don’t think this should be. While at times I feel like bringing you up can create a heavy and uncomfortable mood, I think it’s important to keep talking about you and revel in your memory. And sharing some of your epic stories actually can lighten the mood and get everyone cracking up in laughter. You had the best laugh, man. So jovial, your laugh would make me laugh, just because it was fun to laugh with you. I don’t know if I know anyone who laughed more than you, to be honest.

Another idea that’s been floating around in my head is that sometimes I think of you almost like a figment of my imagination. This is really hard to describe, but I feel what it is, is that I’ve spent so much time and effort trying to train my mind to the fact that I’m never going to see you or speak to you again, it’s almost hard for me to bring myself back to a time when you were alive. It’s almost like that whole period of time was a dream and now we are in some bitter, unfortunate reality where you are never going to come back. I’m not sure if I explained that well, but I’ve spoken to Brooke about it and she agrees.

So those are my thoughts for now. I’ll probably write you another letter in the future, I just wanted to get this all down now. It’s been helpful for me. I miss the shit out of you, but now I carry you with me everywhere. I guess it’s a trade off. You are the fucking man, Klein! We’ll be in touch soon.

Your friend,

AB (Tank, Tankford Lewis, Nixon, Trotter, etc.)

P.S. I miss our colloquialisms. Every time I hear one I think of you. Recent ones that have popped up in my life and made me think of you are “What goes around comes around” and  “I guess that’s how the cookie crumbles.”

P.P.S. Your Dad has been texting me about how Brett just went off and scored 19 points for Greeley. Nice work Kleinsaucer.

The Greatest Texter Of All Time

10 Feb

Jeff regularly texted Carey and me,  both about routine stuff, but also to share with us, through his recounting of events as they were happening, the sheer happiness and excitement he was feeling while out with the friends he loved.  When I’ve told people this (including other parents), their reactions were all similar: that we should be proud and honored to have had that type of close relationship with our son, because it’s not so common.  To be sure, that is in fact one of the reasons I am honored to have been on Jeff’s “short list” of text recipients (one friend confided to me that he had a such a short list).  But there is another more basic reason why I feel that way.  Stated simply, Jeff was, by any measure, the greatest texter of all time.  And don’t just take my word for it- ask the friends and family on his short list for corroboration of this fact.

What was it about Jeff’s texts that earned him this most prestigious of titles ?  Several things.  For starters, some were hilarious purely as a consequence of their completely random, out-of-the-blue, no-context nature.  I mean, picture me on the train to Grand Central at 7:45am on June 3, 2009, and receiving the following from my son:

“Man I like Obama but I hate his sports picks.  Biggest frontrunner ever.” I remember bursting out laughing wondering where that random thought came from (and feeling relief that there was actually something about Obama that he didn’t like).

Or how about this random one from May 29, 2010: “It’s not st. patrick’s day.  Yet ryan, lisa, kedamai and I are all wearing green.”

Another aspect of Jeff’s texts that made them so great was the passion he conveyed, particularly when it came to his basketball conspiracy theory that the league and the refs were always conspiring to make sure the NBA finals featured their chosen teams.

From May 8, 2009:  “Watch the Rockets get screwed in this game by the officials.  Just watch.”

And over a year later, May 29, 2010, he was still convinced that the fix was on: “I know they want Celtics-Lakers but breaking out the machetes this early ?”

To Jeff, the officials were so biased that it was shocking when his underdog team actually overcame their bad calls.  On May 31, 2009, he seemed to think that it had to be some form of divine intervention that enabled it to happen:

“I give some credit for our victory from above.  I think he/she/it deserves something although I’m not sure how much.  Thank God they did it though.”

But the ones I loved most of all were the ones that would come late on those weekend or vacation nights (or early mornings in many cases) when he was out with his friends.

These were the times he reveled in, and he clearly wanted to share his happiness with us.  To Carey’s chagrin, I would keep my cell phone on the window sill next to our bed, because I would rather have had a sleep-interrupted night than wait till the morning to receive gems like these:

December 31, 2008-“I can’t even begin 2 describe how funny this night has been.  I’ll give you an update tomorrow.”

June 20, 2009, 12:05am- “Yep.  It’s great.  weatley heights or hills.  I’m not sure which.  Beautiful Long Island girls.  Good stuff.”

June 26, 2009, 2:02am- “What I’m learnin is I’m no longer in the north.  I’m in the mid-atlantic.  That’s a big difference.  Believe me. “

July 4, 2010- “we just went out for a very expensive lobster dinner in Newport for July

4th.  Right as the bill came, jack suggested we play credit card roulette to see who pays.  Jack, Ryan and I were the only 3 participants out of 10 people here, so everyone else had to pay their share.  I guess karma bit jack for suggesting the game, because he lost and had to pay for the 3 of us.  I feel bad because one of my good friends had to pay a lot, but

I also like how I just had a huge expensive dinner and didn’t have to pay a cent.”

And then there was this awesome text from July 10, 2010, almost exactly 3 months

before Jeff died, which reflected pure happiness and contentment:

The last text I ever received from Jeff arrived in the early morning hours of November 7, 2010.  It was a text like so many others I had received over the prior two years, one in which he simply let me know where he was going to crash after another great night with his friends.   In this case, he had gone out with A.B. and the Duke guys, and his message was,

“OK, Sir, I’m gonna stay at AB’s frat bro’s place on 39th and 2nd.  Will be home tomorrow by noon.”

Reading this, there was no way to know that this would be his last such night out with the guys or that I’d never receive another text from him.  As promised, he was home around noon that day, and we had a fun family dinner at Macarthur’s in Pleasantville that Sunday night.  He seemed in a particularly good mood, teasing Brett (who he called “B-Man”, or just “B” for short) about  the menu that night being filled with “B things” like Beef Barley soup and Butternut Bisque.  He thought that was hilarious.   The four of us (Drew was at school) then walked over to Coldstone for ice cream, and it was all good.  Jeff even let Brett drive his car home.

To this day, I must admit that I fantasize about getting a classic text from Jeff after the

Knicks pull off a big win, after the Yankees sign a Rafael Soriano, or even during the early morning hours on any given Sunday.  Perhaps nothing has contributed more to the permanence of the situation sinking in than the fact that these texts do not come.  I can completely relate to what Julie wrote in her last blog post about those times that beg for a text from Jeff and are just not complete without it.  One of the most wonderful things about him was how he let each one of us know that he was not only thinking about us at those times that were uniquely special to us, but also that he wanted to share them with us.

On November 2nd, I guess I had texted Jeff expressing how I felt about him.   His response was swift and concise.   As with all the other messages, this one will forever reside in both my phone and my heart.  It said simply:

From a father’s perspective, that message alone is proof positive that Jeff truly was The Greatest Texter Of All Time.

4 Great Wins; 1 Remarkable Loss

4 Feb

Anyone that knew Jeff Klein knew that he was a huge basketball fan.

As several of the previous posts on this blog pointed out, Jeff, the avid Knicks fan and college basketball connoisseur, lived for the upsets of top teams by the underdog opponents.

When I tell people about him, there are a few traits of his which I almost never fail to mention. One of them is the way that Jeff would always text me with congratulations or condolences after my college team, the Providence College Friars earned a tremendous win (like this one) or suffered a crushing loss (like this one).

Now almost three months since his death, and I don’t think I’ve ever missed Jeff more than I did last week, when both the college and the professional basketball world saw several awesome upsets.

Last weekend, a large group of Jeff’s close friends took a trip up to the Berkshires. We all remarked on how it was the kind of weekend Jeff would’ve lived for – it was filled with great friends, good food and strong drinks.

But my favorite part of the weekend came Saturday night, when the unranked Providence Friars earned their first Big East win in almost a year –  an upset against then-#19 Louisville. It was the kind of win that didn’t impress the Duke friends in our crowd, but one that put me in a fantastic mood, not just for the rest of the night, but for the rest of the weekend.

But despite my elation over the impressive, much-needed win, I couldn’t help but think about how Jeff would’ve been right there with me, glued to the TV during the final minutes of the half – when it wasn’t yet clear if Louisville would ultimately fall short due to foul trouble and a ferocious Friar team – and how we would’ve celebrated with tequila shots before re-joining the rest of the party after the final seconds ran out and the underdog did, in fact, come out on top. As I told his father, it hurt to know that my night would end without my phone lighting up with one of Jeff’s congratulatory text messages.

the Jeff Klein memorial Knicks game, 11/23/2010

 

Two days after returning home from the Berkshires, a group of us headed to the Garden to catch a Monday night Knicks game. And wouldn’t you know – the orange and blue snapped a six game losing streak to beat the Washington Wizards. As Stoudemire made his way to the foul line to shoot a free throw in the final quarter, the Garden erupted in chants of “MVP! MVP!” – and I knew Jeff was cheering along from Heaven.

The New York Knicks vs. Washington Wizards, 1/24/2011

And then, the very next night, Providence went on to defeat another Top 25 team as they took down #4 Villanova in intense fashion. It marked the first time since 1998 that the Friars earned back to back wins against ranked opponents. In all my glory, I thought of how Jeff would’ve appreciated this win almost as much as I did.

But the win that hurt most of all came last Thursday.

The New York Knicks took down LeBron James and the star-studded Miami Heat (An incredibly impressive win for the Knickerbockers, even considering Bosh didn’t play alongside James and Wade). I just know Jeff would’ve had plenty to say about the game and the barrage of game-saving 3-pointers that came in the final minutes – providing plenty of inspiration for a spirited post on his Talkin’ Sports blog.

Everyone loves a win, but when it comes to losses, there are some that are easier than others. It’s funny to think that before last November, I thought a buzzer beater loss at the Big East Tournament was one of the most heartbreaking things I had ever experienced. I know now that it’s not. It doesn’t even come close to the unimaginable pain we all felt upon Jeff’s death, and my heart breaks again each time one of these teams pulls off one of those unexpected, terrific moments in sports.

It is comforting to know, however, that Jeff can see all of it. If I had to venture a guess, I’d bet he even has something to do with it.

We all know Jeff would never stop rooting for his favorite teams. What’s more, he’d never stop rooting for his friends’ teams. Even now.

– Julie Parise