Archive | January, 2012

Clif’s Coming

30 Jan

Less than three months after Jeff died, during the first week of last February, our dog Clif was diagnosed with lymphoma (see “Of Clif And Carmelo”, March 27, 2011).  Like we needed that ?  The oncologist we chose told us that Clif could probably live another “high quality” 9-12 months on a low dose chemotherapy regimen.  Well, it has been a week shy of 12 months now, and except for a couple of scary episodes when infections developed, he has done very nicely.  But it is clear now that our beloved Clif’s condition is deteriorating and his time has run out.

I remember briefly thinking, when we first heard the news last February, that at least Clif would soon be with Jeff again.  I pictured the two of them together and remembered how Clif had clearly been a soothing presence for Jeff in his last weeks.  When we first got Clif in 2001, it took Jeff a while to get used to having a dog around.  But over time, as he realized how minimally intrusive Clif was, and how loving and adorable he was, the two of them became fast friends.  And Jeff enjoyed spending time on the floor by Clif’s bed, petting him and just hanging with him.  While our family will be devastated when Clif goes, I must say that the idea of him taking care of Jeff, and vice versa, provides quite a bit of comfort.

 

January 11, 2012- The mild winter has been a precious gift in allowing Clif to enjoy his final days in the sun.

 

A couple of months ago on Facebook, Jeff’s good friend and KDR brother, Ray Queliz, posted that his grandmother had just passed away and asked Jeff to look after her.  There is no doubt that Jeff has done that, and it made me realize that, with 3 of his own grandparents already up there with him, there has probably been quite a reunion going on in Heaven all this time.  And now Clif’s coming.  

The difference, of course, is that my parents (ages 75 and 82), Carey’s Dad (age 71) and Clif (almost 11) all had (or in Clif’s case, will have had) reasonably full lives.  Jeff did not, although he might argue that he lived life to the fullest during the time he was here. And it would be difficult to disagree with that, especially after viewing the photos in my November 9th blog post, “There Are No Words”  

They say that death is a part of life, and our family has been assaulted by the truth of that message for the past 14 months.  But there is something very wrong about death when it occurs outside of the natural order of things, and especially when it is the result of an irrational, impulsive decision made by a clouded young mind. 

In time, I was able to deal with the death of my parents, and so I know I’ll be able to do so with Clif, although we will all acutely feel his loss.  What a precious, loving dog and family member he has been from day one.  I do not, however, see much light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to trying to heal from the devastating blow of losing our son in the way we did.  That is an extremely long term proposition.  For now, though, I will try to focus on and envision Jeff’s glee when he sees who is about to enter the gates of Heaven to reunite with him.  That is a much more palatable way to think about our current state of affairs.

So get the dog treats ready, Jeff.  Your dear friend and companion will be rejoining you soon.

Clif’s coming.  

 

-Rich Klein
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In His Own Words: Jeff Called The 2008 Giants Upset Over The Packers AND The Super Bowl Win Over The Patriots

23 Jan

Minutes before the Giants’ NFC championship game yesterday against the 49ers, I remembered the pillow.  I’m thankful that I did, because I knew that I needed a tangible connection to Jeff up in Heaven in order for the Giants to have a chance to pull off yet another upset and reach the Super Bowl.  Thus, after posting the message yesterday afternoon that many of you saw on his Facebook group page, I ran into Jeff’s room. And there it was, sitting on the ottoman where it had been for so many years—a small square pillow with the Giants logo on it.  It is yet another simple item that cost so little, yet meant so much to Jeff as part of his overall Giants fandom.  I grabbed it, brought it into our upstairs TV room where Brett was waiting, and I clutched it to my side throughout the entire first half, which ended with the Giants enjoying a 10-7 lead.  Holding onto that pillow definitely did achieve the goal of making me feel like Jeff was watching with me and that we were sweating it out together.  And to solidify our connection even further, I wore the navy blue Middlebury Panthers t-shirt that used to be Jeff’s and that I now wear in his honor.

Jeff's Giants pillow sits next to his famous blind referee costume in his room

In the second half and into the overtime, though, I couldn’t contain my excitement and tension over the events that were unfolding before us.  So instead of clutching the pillow, I began clutching, jumping on, hugging, shaking and otherwise physically mauling my stoic son Brett.  Fortunately, Brett was just as excited as I was and is pretty darn strong in his own right, so he was returning the fire– hug for hug, tackle for tackle, and well, you get the idea.

As Jeff, Drew (who was spared from the rough-housing by being at school) and Brett can all attest, watching a big game together in our household is a test of physical and emotional endurance.  Passive fans, we are not.  Carey and her mother wisely kept their distance and stayed out of harms way.  When the winning field goal sailed through the uprights, Brett and I literally jumped into each other’s arms, screaming at the top of our lungs, and we didn’t let go for what seemed like several minutes.  It was a beautiful thing.  And last week, I was lucky to have both Drew and Brett with me to watch the huge upset of the Packers.

But of course, all of this has brought back the memories of the Giants’ Super Bowl run of 2007-08, and the extreme enjoyment that Jeff experienced during that exciting time.  The best part about it was that he was one of the few people I knew who truly believed and predicted in writing that the Giants would beat the Packers in the NFC Title game and then would upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Giants opened the wildcard round by beating the Buccaneers, which was not a great surprise, but the following week, they stunned the number 1 seeded Dallas Cowboys.  Next up for Big Blue were the hugely favored, number 2 seeded Packers.

On January 15, 2008, five days before the big game, which would determine who advanced to the Super Bowl, I emailed Jeff my assessment of the Giants’ chances to pull off another huge upset:

“Jeff- Unlike last week, I don’t think the Giants can win this week.  The Cowboys were a team in disarray and distracted by controversy.  The Packers are hitting on all cylinders.  I hope I’m wrong.  Love, Sir.”

Oh man, I struck a chord.  Just 17 minutes later, Jeff emailed me back, and in his inimitable style, patiently and eloquently explained to me exactly why I was so wrong (once again):

“Hey- I really disagree about this week.  I actually think the Giants have a better chance of beating the Packers than I thought they did against the Cowboys.  I am still not totally convinced on Brett Favre and think he’s still capable of having a terrible day (obviously the same with Manning but still).  I don’t think the Packers have as many weapons as the Cowboys, so if the Giants kept it close against them, they can certainly do it against the Packers.

The only thing working to their disadvantage is the blistering cold forecast for Sunday.  This is especially bad because Eli is a little girl and plays significantly worse in the cold (he even admitted the adverse weather conditions negatively affected his game the last few weeks of the regular season).  So we’ll see.  Love, Jeff “

 

The Giants kept it close, just as Jeff suggested, and then pulled off a thrilling overtime upset in one of the greatest playoff games ever.  I mean, I don’t think there was ever an occasion when Jeff and I disagreed on a sports topic, that I ended up being right.  His sports knowledge and analytical capabilities were second to none (not to mention his style of communicating his views).

I can’t begin to describe how excited Jeff was by the Giants’ unlikely trip to the Super Bowl that year.  And what great timing it was, because by that time, Jeff had his own sports column in The Middlebury Campus called “J.K. Rolling”, and he thus had free reign to write about the Giants and offer his own Super Bowl prediction.  I thought a nice way to celebrate the Giants’ 2012 trip to the Super Bowl would be to reprint Jeff’s January 24, 2008 column below, which ends with his prediction that his beloved Giants would triumph.   As usual, he was right.  I am confident that his prediction in 2012 would be the same as it was then, and I will be praying for some form of communication from Jeff before the big game.  I’ll keep you posted if I do receive it.  In the meantime, enjoy the article:

        “Wow. I’m still catching my breath from this exhilarating day of football.

          After winning their respective games Sunday, the New England Patriots and New York Giants will meet in Super Bowl XLII in what should be an epic game filled with all sorts of drama and storylines.

          In the afternoon affair, the Patriots protected home field and fought off the Chargers 21-12 to continue their pursuit of a perfect season. It wasn’t the prettiest of games for the Pats, especially not for quarterback Tom Brady, who threw a season-high three interceptions. For the second straight game, Randy Moss was a non-factor, as he did not catch a single pass. The only impact he made was on a fourteen-yard end-around late in the first quarter. Overall, the Patriots offense was not nearly as efficient as last weekend, in which Tom Brady completed 26 of his 28 passes en route to a victory over Jacksonville. But as has been the case all season, the Pats came through in the clutch and earned the victory. They are 18-0 on the season and will try to complete their historic season undefeated when they host the Giants in two weeks.

          Speaking of the Giants, they again proved the naysayers wrong with a stunning, excitement-filled overtime victory, as they outlasted the Green Bay Packers 23-20 in a frigid Lambeau Field (temperature at kickoff was -1, with a wind-chill of -23). Quarterback Eli Manning still has his large share of critics – many people thought he wouldn’t be able to handle the cold – but nonetheless he turned in an excellent, turnover-free playoff performance for the third consecutive week. He has yet to throw an interception in the 2008 playoffs, a remarkable turnaround from the regular season, in which he threw almost as many picks as touchdowns. Plaxico Burress played the game of his life, catching 11 passes for 154 yards, which establishes a Giants postseason record. The Giants as a team showed incredible resiliency, having to overcome five fumbles and two crucial missed field goals by Lawrence Tynes, the second of which would have won the game in regulation with four seconds left. But Tynes was able to atone for his blunders with the game-winning 47-yard field goal in overtime, sending the Giants to Arizona and a date with the Patriots.

          Many people across the country wanted to see a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl, but the Giants-Pats presents an interesting match-up in its own right. New England played at New York in the final game of this year’s regular season, winning 38-35 in a fiery and competitive affair. The victory gave the Pats a perfect 16-0 regular season, the first team ever to achieve such a feat.

          But in that game, the Giants proved that they could compete with the Patriots, to say the least. The G-Men led 28-16 early in the second half, which accounted for the Pats largest deficit of the season. They were able to get consistent pressure on Brady using an array of blitzes and were able to expose New England’s suspect run defense. While the Patriots pulled it out in the end, the Giants showed that they could match up with the league’s best and have been rolling ever since.

          Expect the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl sequel to be no different. Eli Manning has grown up infinitely in this year’s playoffs, Ahmad Bradshaw has developed into a legit and explosive running back, and the defense has shown that it can harass opposing quarterbacks into submission. Yes, even Tom Brady.

 While the Patriots may be the better team, as a die-hard Giants fan I feel compelled to take them in the rematch. The Patriots are being labeled as a “team of destiny” and one more win would produce a storybook ending. But in the biggest came of his career, Eli Manning will come up huge and propel the Giants to victory, avenging their regular season defeat and ruining the Pats’ perfect season.

Now that’s what I call a storybook ending. “

Starting A New Year By Seeking A Do-Over Of The Past

10 Jan

I have long been a 1960s history junkie, and I’ve always thought the assassination of JFK was one of the most important and devastating events of that era.  So when I strolled through the Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan before Christmas, I was stunned to find that the latest Stephen King novel was entitled “11/22/63”, which was the date Kennedy was struck down by Lee Harvey Oswald.  On the book’s front cover is a newspaper containing the familiar headline: “JFK Slain In Dallas, LBJ Takes Oath,” but shockingly on the back cover, a completely different newspaper is pictured.  That headline reads: “JFK Escapes Assassination, First Lady Also OK!  Americans Breathe Sigh Of Relief.”  WOW.  I stood there completely bowled over by the whole concept, and I knew I had to have that book.  So I dropped a hint to Drew that this might be a cool Christmas present for Dad.  Drew acted upon the hint, and now I can’t wait to read it.

 

The book’s premise is that a Maine school teacher, Jake Epping,  learns from his friend, the owner of a diner, that the pantry in the back of his diner is actually a portal for time travel back to a specific date in the past,  September 9, 1958.  Step into the pantry, and you can travel back 53 years.  Jake’s friend had been using the portal to buy ground beef at 1958 prices (he must have had the most profitable diner in the country), but he offers Jake the opportunity to go back there for a deeper purpose—to stalk Oswald for five years and then prevent one of history’s most infamous events from happening.

The combination of a subject that fascinates me and the sheer concept of going back in time to prevent a senseless tragedy sent my mind into an absolute frenzy that day at Barnes & Noble.  I literally had to go sit down in the store’s Starbucks to compose myself.  You see, I have had these recurring fantasies, almost every day since Jeff died, that I actually stopped him before it was too late.  These aren’t dreams I’ve had while sleeping.  These are wide-awake, sitting at my desk with the door closed fantasies that I can’t stop visualizing. 

The Los Angeles Times review of King’s book says, “This is the conundrum of any time travel story…Every action taken in the past has an effect on the future, which means even the best intentions often have unintended consequences.  Jake learns this early in the novel, when he tries to save a man he knows from a childhood catastrophe, only to learn, upon returning to the present, that in the new world he’s created, his acquaintance was killed in Vietnam.”

I don’t buy it.   Was it better that Jake’s friend died in childhood, or 15+ years later in Vietnam?  My view is that every day of life is a blessing, and I’d have taken another 15 years with my beautiful son in a heartbeat, if that’s all I could have.  No brainer.  The future is always uncertain, but all senseless tragedies should be reversed if the power exists to do so.  I do understand the horrors that people endured serving in Vietnam, and I don’t mean to make light of those.  But to have 15 extra years with my son, almost under any circumstances, would be my choice.

I have two very distinct fantasies, one simple and one dramatic.  The simple one has me coming home early on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010, and I pull up to the house just as Jeff is backing out of the garage.  I say “hey, where are you headed, I came home early so we could grab an early dinner at Michael’s and then watch the Knicks-Bucks game at the bar afterward.”

And Jeff, not knowing what to say, kind of stammers and says, “Oh, sure, ok, great” and he pulls back into the garage.  I wonder why he says he needs to go back into the house to get his wallet, while I stare at a $1 bill and his loose driver’s license in his car’s cup holder.  There are also a few sheets of paper on the passenger’s seat.  Oh well, he must’ve forgotten the wallet before he got in the car.  He seems surprised and definitely out of sorts, but he pulls himself together, and we drive over to Michael’s.  We then have our typical great time together, talking about a plan for him to regroup and to figure out how to channel his true passions into a career that he will love.  And after a few beers, we start screaming at the TV as the Knicks proceeded to get blown out by 27 in Milwaukee.    

But in the real world on that night, Brett sat between Carey and me on our bed, none of us knowing what to do or say.  And we spent at least two hours trying to summon the courage to call Drew at college to tell him his big brother was gone forever.  Then, in the most courageous act I’ve ever witnessed in my life, Carey insisted that she would make the call.  After I walked Brett back to his room, hugged him goodnight for several minutes, and told him we would all take care of each other forever, I returned to our bedroom.  Carey took a deep breath and picked up the phone.  All I could do was sob as I listened to her explain the unexplainable.  How do you tell a 19 year old middle son that, in the blink of an eye, he had become our eldest ?

In my dramatic fantasy, I also come home early.  I don’t know how or why, but somehow I’ve been tipped off to what Jeff was on his way to do, and I speed toward the bridge.  I get there in time, and as he gets out of his car, I pull up behind him.  I get out, lunge toward him, and wrestle him to the ground, all the while telling him how much I love him and that everything will be ok.  I usher him into my car and drive him home.  I tell him that we’ll just tell the police later that his abandoned car had broken down.  The next day, I take him back to the behavioral therapist he was supposed to see on this day.  It goes well, as we expected, and the session gives Jeff the motivation to move forward in a positive way.  The meds he had been on the month before completely leave his system by the end of the year, and he feels back to himself again.  He is ready to embrace 2011.

The Associated Press’ book review says: “Revealing how ‘11/22/63’ ends would, of course, spoil the book.  But it kind of doesn’t matter, because the lesson is clarion: Don’t mess with yesterday.  It may bite.  Pulling at the threads of time’s tapestry is done at our own peril, and the conventional assumption that changing one thing about the past would make today better is simplistic.  Besides, King writes, ‘The past doesn’t want to be changed.’”

That may be true–the past may not want to be changed—but I would do anything including selling my soul if that’s what it took to bring Jeff back.  And changing that one thing absolutely WOULD make today better.  It would make the world a better place, brighten the days of many people who have been deeply hurt by losing Jeff as part of their lives , and it would erase the devastation that our family has endured and make us whole again.  I’d wager that even NBA Commissioner David Stern would welcome his arch rival back.  There would be no peril in changing the past to prevent what Jeff did.  There would only be goodness, beauty and hope.  There could be no negative repercussions to bringing back a young man who truly touched people’s lives and who had so much potential to do great things someday.  And since his death was an isolated incident that didn’t involve anyone else, reversing it would not alter the natural order of the universe.

The New York Times book review says, “There is a darker what-if. What if history is too forceful to redirect? What if jiggering the engine produces no favorable outcome — merely a postponement of the inevitable? If he had lived, Kennedy might not have escalated the war in Vietnam, and might have kept America out of a bloody mire. But we don’t know. What if we were headed there anyway? Then our tampering might only make things worse. It is not historical inevitability, but something close.”

I completely disagree with this passage.  I don’t believe there is anything inevitable about any of our fates.  We shape them through our actions and our approach to life.  If Jeff had gone to his appointment that day instead of to the bridge, he would not have simply been postponing the inevitable.  He would have been embarking on a new path, the right path, to getting his life back on track after the detour he took by leaving his job.  And every day that each of us is out there in the world battling it out is a day that brings us new hope and promise.  If our destinies were inevitable, why bother trying to shape them?  Why bother striving for anything? Of course, that is ludicrous.

I’ve had a long-time tennis league opponent named Paul Stone, who is a great player and one I have not yet been able to conquer.  All of our matches have seemed to go the same way.  I take a sizable lead, let’s say 7-2, and he always comes back to beat me by 2 or 3 games in a first-to-12 game match.  In the summer of 2010 after one such match, I went over to Paul and asked how he finds the resolve to never give up no matter how far behind he is in a match.  He said, “Rich, the way I look at it is, as long as I’m out there swinging the racquet, I always have a chance to win.  So I just play as hard as I can until the bell rings, and usually good things happen.”

I went home that day and immediately shared that story with Jeff and asked him if he agreed that this was a great metaphor for the way he should approach his own situation (he had just left his job at that time).  He listened intently and shook his head affirmatively.  He really seemed to enjoy the anecdote and to take it all in. 

Shortly after this, we left for East Hampton for what would be our final family vacation with Jeff.  The first day there, I got pretty sick, and by the time we went out for a family dinner that night, my temperature had spiked to 102.  I almost never get sick, and I guess it unnerved Jeff to see me in that state.  He asked to me to get up from the table so he could speak with me privately.  He brought me to the vestibule by the restaurant entrance and said, “Hey, I see what my whole job situation has done to you, and I don’t want you to worry.  I’m gonna step up and go to law school.”   He broke into a big smile as he said that.

He was clearly concerned about me and was making a very loving gesture, and I responded by embracing him right there and telling him how much I loved him.  But I corrected two things about what he said.  First, I told him I just happened to get sick- his leaving a job had nothing to do with it.  And second, while I appreciated the sentiment very much, I told him I only wanted him to go to law school if HE wanted to go.  I said I’d rather him step up and strive for WHATEVER he wanted to do.  Either way, it was an amazing moment.

 

Our final vacation as a family of five, in East Hampton, August 2010

 Less than three months later, though, medication-induced thoughts led Jeff to commit an irrevocable act.  Tragically, when it comes to suicide, there are no “do-overs”.

But “11/22/63” has prompted me to dream that maybe there can be a do-over after all.  Maybe there really is a time-travel portal somewhere in the world, in some abandoned warehouse, or some vacated farmhouse in the heartland, or maybe even in Atwater Commons at Middlebury for all I know.  I guarantee you this—if one exists, I will find it, even if it takes the rest of my days. 

And when I do locate it, I will travel back to the afternoon of November 9th, 2010.  If I have a choice when I get there, I will opt for the simpler fantasy of catching Jeff before he leaves our house, and then taking him to that long overdue dinner at Michael’s, so that I can eat, drink and watch basketball with my boy again.  After setting life back on its proper course, I will return to the present to find Jeff blogging away about the world of sports, getting ready for a night out with the guys, talking about his exciting new job working at ESPN.com, texting Brooke and Julie about their plans to meet in the city next week for dinner and a Knicks game, and typing a Facebook message to Thao about his plan to visit her in D.C. the weekend after that.

The realist in me understands that I may never find the portal that I seek.  But the simple lesson learned from Paul Stone is that as long as I’m out there searching hard every day, there’s always a chance that I will find it.  And while writing about Jeff in this forum has been great and therapeutic under the circumstances, I can’t wait for the day when, after fixing the past and returning to the present, I express my gratitude to Elon Rubin (this blog’s creator) for having given me the opportunity to write on the Kleinsaucer blog.  And the look of sheer befuddlement on his face, as he tells me he has no idea what I’m talking about, will be the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen.

-Rich Klein