Archive | March, 2011

A Hidden Gem From Classic Michaels

29 Mar

I was going through the photos on my computer and came across this little hidden gem, certainly taken during a night at classic Michael’s, apparently during the summer of ’09. I’m not sure why I never posted this picture to Facebook with other ones that appear to be from that same night, but now I can imagine no better venue than this to share it. Looks like perhaps Brooke and I were attempting to teach Jeff some cheerleading moves. He’s got the smile part down pat, that’s for sure.

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Of Clif And Carmelo

27 Mar

Dear Jeff,

It’s been a couple of months since I last wrote to you, so I thought it was time to get you up to date on things.   Overall, I guess I’d characterize things as being stable.  Mom has been remarkably strong, as have Drew and Brett.  I, the former rock of stability, have certainly shown some chinks in my armor, but I’m hanging tough.  As I wrote about in one of my February blog posts, we have seen several tangible signs that your spirit is alive and well, and I want you to be assured that we know you it was you who turned out the lights at the Meadowlands, nudged Brett’s last shot through the hoop against Harrison, etc.).  We always know when you are sending us a message or communicating with us in any way, so don’t ever worry about whether those messages are being recognized by us.  They are.  Every single one.

First, I guess you should know that Clif was diagnosed with lymphoma during the first week of February.  Talk about kicking a family while they’re down.  Apparently, this disease has become increasingly common in dogs, but there are a couple of silver linings here, I think.  First, we got him on chemo immediately and, as the oncologist told us he would, he went into remission right away.  The typical treatment for cancer in dogs is to put them on low levels of chemo drugs (much lower than what people receive) for 6 months so that they maintain a very high quality of life.    So we hopefully have a good bit of time to continue to love and cherish him, and so far he seems comfortable and happy.  He just enjoyed his 10th birthday on March 17th, as you know.   The second silver lining ?  You know how much we adore Clif and how devastated we will be when he dies.  But I am comforted to know that he will be with you again.  I can’t stop thinking about how much time you spent during your last few months lying beside his bed, petting him and being soothed by him.  You always said that although you were initially not too excited about getting a dog, Clif was “the cutest and least annoying dog ever.”  Well, at the end, he clearly went from being the least annoying dog to the most soothing one ever.  So even though you are out of pain now, I will still be happy to know that when the time comes next year, Clif will be reunited with you, licking your face, cuddling you and continuing to be your faithful and eternal companion.

How did Mom handle the news about Clif, you ask ?  Well, she freaked momentarily because she jumped to the erroneous conclusion that he was going to die within a few days.  Once she realized that wasn’t the case, she took an action step to ensure that we will always have a dog well into the future.  She led the effort to adopt a greyhound !  Not surprisingly, she insisted on a girl, since we haven’t had a girl anything in our house other than Mom.  Her name is Dobi (Mom hates the name), but I’m reluctant to change it on her, since she’s already almost 2 1/2.  She’s an absolute sweetheart, just the kind you would have loved, and Clif is being stoic about the whole thing.

Clif and the boys, circa 2001

Did the deafening buzz about the Carmelo trade make it all the way up there ?  The Knicks basically blew up their existing team to get Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.  They gave up Gallinari, Chandler, Felton and Mozgov.  On February 22nd, I sent the following email to Brooke, Julie, AB and Elon: “Can you guys even imagine how Jeff would have been blogging away on this Carmelo Anthony trade ???  I know exactly what he would say, and I almost wish I could take over Talkin’ Sports and write it for him.  BTW, he would have thought it was an absolutely terrible trade to blow up the team for essentially one guy.  Even though we get Billups, Felton is six years younger and having the best year of his career.  Jeff would have been beside himelf.”  Well, was I right, Jeff ?!  Is that what you would have said ?  Nobody knows the way you think about sports better than I do, and I know that’s what  you would have said down here and HAVE said up there.  You are all about how important team chemistry is, and you never would have approved of Dolan destroying that.  Elon and AB begged to differ.  Elon felt that you have to give a lot to get a lot and that this had to be done.  AB also liked the trade and made the good point that in a league of superstars, having two on our side will help us get more later from the future free agent pool.  Well, Jeff, the very early returns would say that you and I were right.  The Knicks are a terrible 7-11 since the trade (including another ridiculous loss to the Cavs), while the Nuggets are 12-4 including a win over the Spurs !  We must acknowledge, though, that it is way too early to judge, and only time will tell.  I’m just happy that I will finally see a playoff game (maybe) with our mini-plan tickets after all these years and heartbroken that you won’t be with us for that.

You know, I really am considering continuing your blog under the name “What Jeff Would Say”.  So many exciting and controversial things have happened in sports since you left that I long to read your views about.  I am so confident that I know exactly what you would say about all of them, and I would love to give your views the voice they always had through Talkin’ Sports.  Maybe it’s a dumb idea, since there is only one Jeff Klein.  I don’t know.  I’m going to consult with your friends and brothers before doing anything, and I’m going to trust them to be completely honest with me.  I just want to take every opportunity I can to honor you and to keep your energy and spirit prominently among us.

Drew and I went to Los Angeles for the NBA All-Star Weekend that you and Brett were also supposed to attend.  I couldn’t commit to buying Brett a ticket, because his basketball playoffs were starting that Friday night (our flight was Saturday morning), and we mutually agreed that there was a 90% chance that Greeley would win at home against a low seeded team and continue on with their season.  Brett was willing to take the 10% risk of being stranded at home with his season over if Greeley lost.  I guess nobody told Clarkstown South that they were supposed to lose, and sure enough, they were in control from start to finish in their stunning upset win over us.  I can’t tell you how proud I was of how maturely Brett handled and accepted the situation with no complaints at all.  He told me he knowingly took the risk, and he would simply watch all the action on TV with his friends, which he did.

Remember that evening in September when I gathered the three of you in Brett’s room to give you the great news that the four of us were going to go to LA for All-Star Weekend ?  You seemed so excited about it for so many reasons- an amazing event, adding Staples Center to your list of stadiums/arenas visited, and a weekend together with your brothers and me.  I guess that excitement waned over the next couple months.  Well, Drew and I had an awesome time together.  We had great seats, the slam dunk contest was crazy, the game was spectacular, and spending that weekend with Drew was very special.  We talked about you (as we often do) over Sunday brunch.  You know, I am so incredibly proud of Drew and Brett.  They have demonstrated inner strength that has been way beyond the call of duty.  It’s actually breathtaking to me how they continue to succeed in school, participate in extracurriculars and stoically move forward, all the while expressing their grief and love for you in their own quiet ways.  They adore you and always looked up to you, and you hurt them very much.  I am having a hard time forgiving you for that.

Brotherly love at Midd graduation, May 2009

Staying on basketball for a minute, the Knicks game against the Magic that you were going to take Brooke and Julie to (if part of the Garden roof didn’t decide to crumble) on November 2nd has been rescheduled for this coming Monday, March 28th.  Since you did not honor your promise to Brooke to take them to another game (this was contrary to your chivalrous nature), I have made good on that promise for you by giving them our tickets for the rescheduled game.  AB and Dan Reisner will join them.  I am really happy that they’ll be there for this game, and I know you will be there in spirit to help the Knicks in this tough match-up against Dwight Howard.  Even you might have a hard time helping them pull this one out.

Brett took the SAT exam for the first time on March 13th.  Mom and I went out to dinner the night before, and he was asleep by the time we got home.  When Mom woke him up early the next morning, she looked on the floor and saw that he had already laid out his clothes for the day.  Poignantly, he had put out his Middlebury T-shirt, the only shirt he would have even considered wearing on such an important day.  He then went downstairs and had hot chocolate in our Middlebury coffee mug.  I was deeply touched by this quiet demonstration of sensitivity and love for you, and I am sure you are too.

A quick story about your impact on my recent performance in the Club Fit tennis league.  When I summoned the strength to start playing again in the new session starting in January, I began a routine of putting your picture on the inside of my racquet cover, which I always place on the bench next to the court.  This way, I can look at it during the changeovers, and I have been drawing great inspiration from looking at your smiling, handsome face when a match is not going well (and even when it is).  And guess what ?  I have not lost a match since you left.  I am undefeated and in first place in the men’s “B” league.  My streak has included wins over younger (and probably better) guys, like Paul Powers.  I had Paul down 7-2 a few weeks ago, but he got hot and won 5 straight games to tie the match at 7-7 with just 5 minutes left before the bell.  I went to the bench and looked at you, and it was as if you were beseeching me to go out and win it for you.  I sensed that so strongly.  And at that moment, despite Paul having all the momentum, I knew he didn’t have a chance.  I went out and blasted him in the next game to win the match 8-7.  It was all you, Jeff.  It was all you.  After every win, I text Mom, Drew, and Brett the result, and I always end with the same sentence: “Still haven’t lost since Jeff died and don’t intend to.”  You think you can help me make the cut to enter the U.S. Open this summer ?

Jeff was the Under 14 tennis champion at Island Lake Camp, 1999

With respect to tennis, I really thought that your decision to join the USTA this past fall, in the midst of the difficult time you were going through, was an extremely positive and optimistic step.  I think one of the best nights of the fall was Friday, October 15th, the night of your first USTA tournament.   You were placed in a 4 player bracket (Reisner was also in the bracket), and when you came home that night from your match, you were so excited that you had won and were advancing to the finals the next night.  Drew was home for his midterm break that weekend, and the three of us then had a blast watching the Yankees win Game 1 of the ALCS playoff game against Texas in dramatic fashion, scoring 5 runs in the 8th to win.  We were going crazy watching that comeback !  It was a great night.   Although the Yankees ultimately fell to the Rangers and didn’t repeat as champions, I am happy and thankful that you did go to the Yankees World Series parade in 2009 with Alex Feintuch.  That was something you had always wanted to do but were too young when they last won it in 2000.  I was so proud for people to see you when you came from the parade to my office in your Yankees garb.  Such beautiful memories, Jeff.

I trust that you had an uplifting birthday when you saw the overwhelming love and support that you received on your Facebook page.  Your friends really turned out for you in a big way, and it was heartwarming for me to see it on what was otherwise a brutal day for us.  Brooke emailed me that day to say that your friends were meeting up at Michael’s that night to celebrate your birthday.  I decided to take Drew over there for one drink just to toast you with your friends.  The funny thing, though, was that I wrongly assumed that since it was a weeknight and at least some might have to go to work the next day, everyone would already be there when we arrived at 9:15.  So we walked into the bar, and the place was virtually empty !   I texted AB to ask if the plan was still on for people to go out, and he replied that he told everyone to come at 10pm.   He said he’d shoot right over, so Drew and I sat at the bar and watched the Knicks blow out the Hornets for your birthday.  Then AB came, and they put on the Duke game, and Brooke arrived soon after.  By the time Drew and I left at about 10:25, only one other person had showed up (Hannah Friedman) !  AB explained that people were just fashionably late and that he expected a full house.  I said to give them my best, but I had to be coherent at work the next day.  I must be getting REALLY old to think that people your age would go out that early, even on a weeknight !  I hope you read my birthday blog post, because I need you to know that having you as my first-born son here on earth for 23 1/2 years was a blessing, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  Having you here for the rest of my life, however, would have been the preferred alternative.

I have to say that as difficult as your birthday was to endure, the opening day of March Madness might have been even worse.  I mean, Morehead State beating Louisville in the final seconds in an epic upset, Kentucky barely hanging on to beat Princeton, Butler surviving on a buzzer-beating tip-in, UCLA barely holding off Michigan State by 2, 11th seed Gonzaga and 12th seed Richmond pulling off huge upsets, and Temple beating Penn State on a buzzer beater.  Dear God, Jeff.  You LIVED for a day like this on the opening of March Madness.  Yes, I understand that you saw it all from a great seat, but the point is you could have been sharing all the excitement and craziness with me, your brothers and your friends.  It would have been a day of frenzied texting, moderate (?) drinking and incredible fun.   But I guess in November, this was four months away and not yet on your radar screen.

In closing, Jeff, I must tell you that our grief over losing you has not abated one iota.  If anything, it has just gotten more complicated, because I can now say from firsthand experience that the following old saying is absolutely true-“with grief comes anger”.  I won’t dwell on it, because my love for you overcomes all other feelings, but the fact remains that there are so many things that you should have and could have done and been planning to do down here in 2011.  So much to live for.  You should not have stood up Irem from Middlebury who was planning to fly here in January from Istanbul, for goodness sake, just to see you.  You should be down here passionately blogging your heart out about the world of sports.  You should have gone down to Salem, Virginia with Andres, Kyle and some of the KDR brothers to see Middlebury’s basketball team in the NCAA FINAL FOUR.  You were the beat writer for them for three years, and you would have been in your glory watching them go for the national title.  And although they lost in the semis by 2, what a game !   You should be playing racquetball with the guys, entering more tennis tournaments  with Reisner, drinking beers with pretzel sticks at the Garden and getting ready for the first Knicks playoff game in seven years, watching March Madness, going to Classic Michael’s, and enjoying weekends in the city.  You should be planning your road trip to Middlebury in May to be at Thao’s graduation and getting ready for summer weekend days at Chappaqua Swim and Tennis with Brooke and Julie.

But what about your future, you counter ?  Ok, so you told Weil, Gotschall to go pound sand.  Good for you.  It was then the perfect time to take out a blank sheet of paper and think about how to fill it with ideas that you could be passionate about.  For example, I never saw you more fired up than when Obama was running for President in 2008.  You could have gotten involved as a volunteer in his re-election campaign, which may turn out to be a real battle.  They could have really used you.  Then you could have parlayed that into a job down in D.C.  That’s just one idea, and I’m kicking myself for not thinking of that one while you were here.  But the list of possibilities was endless…

But I know, son, it’s easy for me to say, isn’t it ?  I wasn’t the one who was fed the misprescribed meds that completely clouded your thinking and from which you never recovered.  It was not your fault.  And I’m sorry, I just needed to vent a little.   It’s just that, as your father, I know better than anyone the limitless potential that you had.  And when I talk about potential, I’m not just talking about the potential to succeed in a career.  I’m talking about the limitless potential to have been happy, to have continued to touch lives, and to have been an amazing husband and father some day.  The good news, though, is that you continue to touch lives to this day, even from where you are now.  All anyone needs to do to see that is to read this blog and the emails and letters that Mom and I continue to receive, and to hear about the memorial for you that the KDR brothers have thought about creating.

And so despite the edge to my tone in parts of this letter, which is borne solely out of the pain and frustration that I feel over losing you, I love you more than words can express.  Every day, I stare at the gorgeous close-up photos of you that I have on my desk at work, particularly the one in the dark blue shirt and red tie and the close-up of you in your Middlebury cap & gown at graduation.  I feel as if I should be able to reach inside the photos and pull you out of them and into my arms for a big hug, from which I would never let you go again.  I’ve actually tried to do this, but to no avail.  But the one thing nobody can ever take away from any of us is the vividness of all the beautiful memories of you and the times we had together, which will never, ever fade.   As long as I have that, as well as your precious brothers and my one-in-a-trillion wife (your one-in-a-trillion mother), a few chinks to the armor can not break me, and I will stand strong.  I know that you would expect nothing less of me, and I promise that I won’t let you down.

All my love,

Dad

And so the madness begins

17 Mar

Today is no ordinary day. Today is the kind of day Jeff lived for. I can see him smiling up above, looking down. The weather is absolutely stunning for the first time in a long time. The air smells crisp and fresh as you inhale. Excitement is a brewin’ – not only is it St. Patrick’s day, it is  also the official start of the NCAA Tournament.

I don’t think I appreciated the meaning of March Madness until today. After all, I went to NYU undergrad, devoid of any sports (or team identity). I am at UConn Law now, so I finally have a team to route for. Last year, my first year, I really wasn’t into this day, due to my disposition as an NYU Violet. But, today is different.

Man, watching the Big East torny was exhilarating. UConn made a historic run. I found my self watching every shot, heart thumping as the clock winded down. It was a treat, watching Kemba seal the game winner against Pitt. Watching UConn defeat DePaul, GTown, Pitt, and Louisville, sensational. And now, the big dance has finally started.

 

Kemba Walker shooting the game winning shot against Pitt

I reiterate, Jeff’s presence is permeating throughout our world. As Rich said, Jeff loved, and I mean loved upsets. And, we’re already seeing some tantalizing upsets already (Morehead St. beating Louisville. Are you kidding me ?!?) There is also another sign. Thursdays are my long days, with work in the morning, and classes throughout the day until 9pm. As I walked into my 3:30pm class, I noticed another Professor of mine guest lecturing on a subject I had already taken. I planned in advance, of course. Ipad on the left streaming the torney, iphone in the middle with another game , and on my computer , another. In a shocking turn of events, my Professor instructed me to leave. That’s right.  Needless to say, I did not disrespect my Professor.

Now, I’m sitting outside on my campus, the sun shining, the games playing (drinks not pouring until after classes). Today is a celebration everybody. I will certainly do a toast to Kleinsaucer as I consume my first pint of Guinness.  Take some time out of your day, enjoy, celebrate, toast. Jeff wouldn’t have it any other way.

-Lonnie

(Note: Just to clarify, my professor instructed me to leave because I had already taken the class, thus making the lecture redundant. She did not instruct me to leave because I was watching the tournament. Just call it a March Madness miracle).

Call Off March Madness

14 Mar

Let’s face it, the concept isn’t as radical as the Grinch’s attempt to prevent Christmas from coming in the 1966 classic movie.  That was flat-out heresy.  What I’m proposing here is simply common sense.  It is inconceivable to me that the NCAA would even consider going ahead with the tournament when Jeff Klein won’t be in front of the television to watch it.  It would be like the Lakers playing without Jack Nicholson in the front row, or the Knicks playing without Spike Lee front and center.  Jeff might not have the same star power that those guys do, but would anyone really argue that there is a bigger fan of March Madness ?  So as for playing the tournament this year ?  It’s just wrong.  At least for one season anyway.  College basketball should give itself a year to adjust to a new world order without Jeff in it.  Without Jeff in it…that hurts so very much.

Well, you get the point.  To Jeff, Thanksgiving and Christmas were great, his birthday was certainly an annual highlight, the NBA playoffs were big, but there was nothing that got his juices flowing like March Madness.  Everything about it got him fired up: play-in games, frantically flipping channels on Day One and beyond, bracket-busting upsets, incompetent referees, participating in multiple bracket pools himself, and the list goes on. And this year, he’d even have the new “First Four” round to watch, with the expanded 68 team tournament.  More teams, more upset chances !  Seeing how excited he got gave me great joy, and I watched as many games as I could with him each season.

Jeff started working at Weil, Gotschall in November 2009.  He called me one day in January to tell me that he had already submitted a request to take his first two vacation days on the first two days of the NCAA tournament on that Thursday and Friday in March.  I queried whether it wasn’t a bit too early to be asking for vacation days after having worked there for less than two months.  He reassured me that it was quite ok, as they accrue one vacation day per month, and ultimately you either use them or lose them.  And of course, what better use of vacation days than to watch the opening of March Madness, with the remote in hand and the trigger finger ready.  By the end of the conversation, I was thoroughly convinced that Jeff absolutely MUST take these days off.

Last February, I was having trouble thinking of something fun to get Jeff for his 23rd birthday.  Then it hit me that neither of us had ever been to the Big East Tournament at the Garden.  So I went and bought two tickets for the semi-finals so that we could do something else that neither of us had ever done- watch two games in one night !  Basketball Heaven for Jeff’s birthday !  And what a great appetizer to get us in the mood for the big tournament a week later.  We each went straight to the Garden that night from work, and when Jeff arrived, he started searching for his ticket.  “Uh Dad, I think I left my ticket in my brief case at the office,” he dejectedly told me.  Well son, I told him, the game starts in 25 minutes and the subway is right there, so go get it and I’ll have your beer ready.  Getting from Madison Square Garden to 59th and 5th, and then back again, is no picnic at rush hour, and I didn’t give Jeff much of a chance to make the start of the game.

Jeff's 2010 Big East Semi-Finals ticket still hangs on his bulletin board

I should have known not to sell my son short when it comes to making a basketball game, and sure enough,  just as they were about to tip off, he showed up at our seats absolutely drenched in sweat.  The subway couldn’t have been that hot in March, I said.  “Well”, Jeff replied, “I decided not to take the subway back, but when I realized I couldn’t get a cab, I started to sprint.”  Sprint ???  From 59th and 5th to the Garden in business loafers ???  It turns out that Jeff “only” sprinted half that distance (an incredible endeavor nonetheless) before finally finding an available taxi.  He downed his beer like it was a shot.  I can’t think about Jeff at the Garden without thinking of those beers in the plastic cups with the handles that have an opening in which they place a pretzel stick.  He thought that was the greatest thing ever, and to prove it, he always made sure to consume several of them per game.

And so despite Jeff’s shaky start, we had a great night, first watching Georgetown blow out Marquette in an upset and then watching West Virginia edge Notre Dame in a 53-51 thriller.  By night’s end, we had had our fill of beer and basketball.  I am so thankful that we had this special night together for his birthday, because although we went as a family to a few Yankees games over the summer and a final Knicks game on October 30th, this was the last live sporting event that we attended alone, just the two of us.

Now back to March Madness.  How ironic that the last NCAA final game of Jeff’s life featured the ultimate underdog (Butler) against the school that two of his best friends attended (Duke).  As he told me before the game, it was a “no-lose” situation for him.  As has been mentioned frequently on this blog, Jeff lived for dramatic upsets, always rooting for the underdog to topple the big favorite.  And so there we were, just the two of us, upstairs in our TV room, going crazy watching an incredible final game that truly lived up to its billing.  And what could have been better for Jeff than the fact that it all came down to the final shot, which could win the NCAA championship, and the underdog had the ball !

When Gordon Hayward of Butler launched the final half court prayer for the potential win, I positioned myself so that I could see both the TV screen and Jeff at the same time.  Jeff’s jaw dropped open as the ball was in the air and it looked like it was right on target.  When it rattled out, we both let out a loud and simultaneous “ohhhhhhhhhh !,” which shook the house.  I looked at Jeff and asked, “How bummed are you ?”.  With no hesitation, he said, “Not at all.  Would have been wild, but I’m really happy for AB and Ryan.” And I’m pretty sure he then proceeded to send them a congratulatory text.

And so here we are a year later on the eve of March Madness, which starts tomorrow without its biggest fan- my precious son- and without regard for my view that they should still call the whole thing off.  I guess down deep I know that canceling it now could pose a bit of a problem for all the teams, players, tv networks, advertisers and fans across the country.   The issue for me is that my feelings about March Madness are a microcosm of my broader view of life right now.  It is hard for me to come to grips with the fact that all things in life, including the things that Jeff was passionate about, will go on without him.  I console myself, though, in the thought that the NCAA officials do, in fact, have a valid reason for going ahead with the tournament this year.  It’s because they know that Jeff will absolutely be watching, as he always has.  From here on out, he will just be watching from a different perch, one that is higher with a perfect view, which some might argue is actually the best seat in the house.

-Rich Klein

A Canyon of Heroes State of Mind

10 Mar

One year before Jeff left us, I was fortunate enough to reconnect with him for the first time in a long time. It was a Friday evening in November of 2009, and I had just left the UN (where I was interning) to meet with Jeff’s dad inside his Bryant Park office. Rich and I had never crossed paths before. But we had recently discovered, via email, that we shared a unique hobby together—-collecting archival news and sports films—-and that we lived very close to one another. To say that I was excited to meet the man was a glorious understatement.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Jeff was also on his way to his dad’s office. The Yankees had just held their World Series parade earlier that day, and so Jeff, donning his Yankees paraphernalia and exuding a radiance from his face, was in a “Canyon of Heroes” state of mind. He was also on the threshold of beginning his new job as a paralegal—-something extra to cheer about, no doubt, especially given how tough the economy was. As I settled into an empty conference room, waiting for Rich to get out of a meeting running overtime, in came Jeff to see me and keep me company. It was great. We chatted for the first time in ages, exchanging our favorite Yankees moments, reflecting upon college life, and remembering old Greeley classmates.

It was a conversation which passed by too quickly, and yet will forever be etched in my mind. Here we were, the two of us, always friends from a distance but never in the same group of friends, living what turned out to be parallel lives with SO much in common. We both shared a passion for history and politics. We both enjoyed rallying around the underdogs and the disenfranchised in our community. We both relished good food and good drinks. We both were entertaining the possibility of applying to law schools the following year. And we both were concerned over the uncertainty of our respective futures.

Above all, we both lived and breathed our favorite sports. Jeff’s devotion was to NBA basketball and mine to NHL hockey. But we learned how much each of us loved to write about and offer up commentaries about the games we loved. We held strikingly similar suspicions when it came to officiating—-both on the court and on the ice—-and we each detested our leagues’ commishes. (BTW, if David Stern and Gary Bettman are reading this, a brief message: please resign, marry one another, and move to Hawaii.) We each learned how much the other savored the epic moments, the clutch shots, the first-round upsets, and the miracle runs.

Rich joined us at the table soon thereafter, and the conversation inevitably shifted to our mutual hobby. Rich told me how those films which he and I collected brought back so many memories from his own childhood; how Jeff and the rest of the family never really caught on to this sense of nostalgia; and how some of the videos were particularly rare, expensive and difficult to unearth. Jeff was a great sport, sitting and listening to this unrelated conversation for some time, and then quietly left in the middle of it.

In the weeks and months that followed, I developed a growing relationship with Rich, filled with many more email exchanges and office visits. We talked about different things, and he was always one to go out of his way to help and give advice. Though I never admitted it, nothing ever interested me more than hearing about what Jeff was up to, and how father and son spent time going out to dinner, attending a sports game, etc. I wouldn’t hesitate, every once in awhile, directly dropping Jeff an email or message myself.

My memories of Jeff in his final year, though scattered, are crystalline. I remember a young man—-tall, dark, handsome, athletic and intelligent—-who had an absolutely awesome personality, a joie de vivre that was contagious, a loving family, and so much to be thankful for. I remember bumping into him every so often at Rocky’s, Club Fit, the Millwood bike trail, Chappaqua train station, and other local spots. I remember him continuing his streak as being the only friend of mine who wished me on my birthday every single year since high school graduation. I remember him telling me, multiple times, how he hated his paralegal job because of the insane workload and constant all-nighters. And I remember sitting beside him in October at Pace as we retook the LSATs (after which, he remained seated to tend to a missing signature, or perhaps something else amiss on his test). My final memory of him.

When I think of Jeff, I cannot help but rewind all the way back to the 7th grade. I was new to the Chappaqua school system back then, having just moved from Ossining, and it was a painful transition for me personally, with health problems and no friends whatsoever. Jeff was in a couple of my classes, and he was one of only a handful who bothered to pay any attention to me. He saw that I was doing poorly in these classes, and that I was struggling to stay afloat in general. It was Jeff who first began to call me by my nickname “Veek” on a regular basis. I wouldn’t be surprised if he even coined the nickname for starters. I thought it was terribly corny, but it was great insofar as it quickly gave me an identity, and at a time when I desperately needed one. (I tried donning a red Yankees cap to serve that purpose, but alas, friends kept on plucking that off my head.) The nickname stuck with me for the rest of middle school and for all of high school.

I always wished, deep down inside, that I got to know Jeff better. And it pains me that I never was able to share in the good times that so many of his closest friends were able to cherish. It pains me deeply, because I knew that he and I would have hit it off. Since he left us in November, I have come to know of only more similarities between the two of us—-some too personal for me to post here. But, at the end of the day, I am truly grateful to have developed a close friendship with his dad. Rich is absolutely awesome, and has enriched (no pun intended) my life in so many ways. And I am comforted with the belief that Jeff and I will someday reconnect again in Heaven.

Vikash Khanna

Don’t Be Afraid to Smile

2 Mar

Words truly cannot encapsulate this surreal situation. I sit here, on what would have been the 24th birthday of my dear friend, Jeff Klein. On facebook, his birthday pops up as a reminder. Yet, all I have are profound and joyous memories. As many of us reflect, I think we would all give anything back just to hear his goofy laugh again, or hear another tirade about some sports mishap. Yet, all we have is silence. Pictures. Memories. Dreams. Hopes. Desires. Wishes. In light of such a wide array of feelings, so many emotions stirring through our respective minds at once, what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to remember? What are we supposed to learn?

Perhaps it is the feeling of foreignness, a complete loss of what is fiction and what is reality, is a necessary feeling. I think to myself, how would Jeff want us to approach this day? Are we to cry? Of course. We must mourn, it is apart of our human fabric. But, aren’t we to laugh? That is, aren’t you filled with so many joyous memories that it is hard to not have a smile on your face? And it seems so odd. Out of such a tragedy, a profound loss, how is it that I am sitting here, looking through all of our pictures, laughing?

The Gun Show

It is undeniably hard to take good out of this situation. In many ways, it is an impossibility. But Jeff’s spirit would disagree. He would, I suppose, hope that we laugh. Maybe David Stern will fall today, and strain his back, and he’ll have to resign as commissioner of the NBA. Wouldn’t that be a delight? Maybe, in all this craziness, we are supposed to have profound, intense epiphanies that reinforce the miracle that life is. Maybe we all appreciate every moment, every breath that we make, the gift of life. I know, an odd suggestion, but, dare I say, is today a celebration?

In many ways, it is. We must celebrate Jeff’s life. What he gave to the world. His unique perspective. His exuberance. Goofiness. Insight. And, at times, craziness. With all the emotions running through my brain, I can’t help but accentuate all of the joy that I am filled with knowing that I had to privilege to have Jeff in my life, and for him to grace us with his presence for the time he did.

No doubt, Rich posed an interesting hypothetical – an unimaginable one, to be frank. And my answer would be the same. I would choose to have known Jeff for the time I did, and experience a profound sense of loss than to not know him at all. On Jeff’s birthday, while we all will be reflective, don’t be afraid to smile.

-Elon Rubin

Why We Celebrate 24

2 Mar

Jeff would have turned 24 today.  Those are devastating words that leave me numb.  Jeff LOVED birthdays, and not surprisingly, he enjoyed those of his family and friends just as much as he did his own.  As a family, we always make a big deal of birthdays.  For Jeff, on the morning of his birthday, Carey always made him a special breakfast if he was home at the time.  And of course a special dinner that night would follow, including the opening of presents, and a nice big cake.

Our family will celebrate Jeff’s birthday today in our own way, and we hope that all of his friends, family and readers of this blog join us in their own way.  The remainder of this post explains why we celebrate and why we will do so on Jeff’s birthdays forever.

Jeff’s 10th birthday cake, 1997

A couple of months ago a friend of ours asked us to consider a hypothetical scenario , as a way to ease our pain.  She suggested that when the pain is most excruciating, we think about and answer the question posed in the following “what if” situation.  What if, shortly before Jeff was born on March 2, 1987, God had come to Carey and me and said,

“You are about to have a son who will be the light of your lives for the next 23 1/2 years.  He will be blessed with exceptionally good looks.  He will be intelligent and will achieve great academic success at one of the nation’s finest high schools, as well as at one of its finest liberal arts colleges.  He will be strong and athletic and will play both varsity basketball and tennis in high school.  Throughout his childhood and into adulthood, he will be deeply passionate about the things and the people he loves.   His passions will include sports, writing, eating, drinking, family and friends.  He will combine his passion for sports and writing to become a sports editor for his college newspaper.  He will revel in the experience of being the beat writer for the basketball team and traveling with the team to all of its away games.  He will thoroughly enjoy having his own sports column called JK Rollin’ and continuing to write after his graduation on his own sports blog called Talkin’ Sports (blog is a futuristic word that you’ll learn about in 20 years).

Carey, your relationship with him will be exceedingly close, to the point that you will consider him to be your alter ego, and he will feel the same way.  Rich, your relationship with him will be what every father dreams about having with his son.  And he will have two brothers whom he will adore and who will adore him.  He will love you both very much and will express that to you  frequently in the cards that he writes, and you will save those cards forever.

You will enjoy incredible family vacations with him over the next 23 1/2 years, both in the U.S. and abroad.  You will go to countless sporting events together, and Rich, you will take him on a baseball trip to 3 different ballparks in 3 consecutive days, for his 16th birthday.  It will be a one-on-one bonding trip that will rank as one of the most special times of your life.  You will be young enough to play sports with him, and you will enjoy all of them together (your greatest joy will be when, starting at age 14, he starts to beat you in one-on-one basketball, tennis, ping pong, and anything else you dare challenge him to play).

He will infuse your household with laughter during his entire life.  His sense of humor and larger than life personality will be such that they will define your family.  He will do outrageous things, such as ordering 250 buffalo wings on a whim, ordering curried goat from a fast food counter at a shopping mall, or affectionately pouring a beer on one of his very closest girl friends.  He will create multiple nicknames for everyone in the family (Rich will be “Sir”.  Carey will have many nicknames, including “Potite, Petiti, or Pote for short-all derivations of ‘petite’ referring to your slender build.  His brother Drew will be Poobus, Freight Train and others too numerous to name, and his youngest brother Brett will be Red Cheeks, or just Red for short, as well as B-Man) , and hearing him use these nicknames will leave you in stitches.  He will say grace before meals at home in unique ways that I will not have heard before, such as ‘God is great, God is the boss, let us thank him for this steak and hot sauce.’  He will get away with it because I will know how devout he is and that he is truly thankful.

He will have an incredible group of friends who will truly love him and will cherish the many amazing times they will have together.  He will enjoy with his friends everything from a road trip to Key West, 4th of July at Newport, trips to Duke, a Memorial Day weekend in D.C., rock concerts, intense racquetball matches with guys named AB, BH and Jack, poker games, beer pong, and the list goes on and on.

And most importantly, he will have a heart of gold.  His warmth and kindness will deeply touch and have a positive impact on the lives of many people.  While in high school, he will be co-Executive for a community service organization called SHARE, and in that role, he will organize trips to The Cottage School in Pleasantville, NY where he will design and lead organized activities for their students, who suffer from social and emotional disabilities.  In college, he will become a mentor for a young kid from a broken home in the local community, and they will become close friends.  They will get together virtually every Sunday for four years, and by graduation, he will have had a profoundly positive impact on the young man’s life.

But here’s the catch.  Just after turning 23 1/2, something will go terribly wrong.  After 2 months, a combination of uncertainty over his future and misprescribed medication that will hinder his ability to think clearly will lead him to make a horrific decision to end his own life.  The shock, pain and sense of deep loss that will engulf you will be beyond description, unimaginable and unspeakable.  And I cannot guarantee you when or if that pain will ever abate.

And so the question is, knowing what I’ve just told you, would you like to move forward with your son’s birth, or would you like to call the whole thing off ?  It’s your choice.”

Asked another way, sitting here today with the benefit of perfect hindsight and in extreme pain that may never end, would we do it again ?

The fact that it takes less than a split second to answer ‘of course we would’ is the reason that we will always celebrate Jeff’s birthday.  March 2nd was the day in 1987 when he began a 23 1/2 year journey, during which he made everything he touched better and everyone he knew happier. And so even though the last birthday that Jeff would ever celebrate was his 23rd, those of us who love him deeply will celebrate his 24th today and all future birthdays for as long as we live.  Because we would absolutely do it all over again.  And again.  And again.

-Rich Klein