Archive | August, 2012

My Brother-Part 2

23 Aug

It’s been about eight months since I was sitting here in the same position, in the same place, writing my first blog post – My Brother (part 1). It is still an unfathomable, outrageous, and absurd feeling. In that last post, I went on and on about how unique Jeffrey was in so many ways and how he brightened and touched so many peoples’ lives. And I plan to continue those thoughts and share more hilarious stories with the readers of this blog. But it’s not just those stories and anecdotes that comprise the purpose and true meaning of this post. It intends to delve much deeper, giving insight on how he basically DEFINED our family, gave us life, and why that makes his loss even more tragic.

Well, Brett was certainly attached to Jeff from the start, and one of the things Brett got the most enjoyment out of was the way he mocked Jeff’s love of food, by declaring him “Fat Jeffrey”, even though Jeff had a very strong, slender, and athletic build. Brett always proclaimed him Fat Jeffrey during instances, for example, when Jeff would order curried goat from a fast food counter at a mall upstate! Whenever he did something like that, the rest of us would all sing along, “And that’s why they call him… Fat Jeffrey!” Obviously, this was all a big joke and sort of caught on due to Brett’s silly nickname for him in the first place, but if you ask me, not many kids his age would be ordering curried goat from fast food counters. Any random trip to the mall could be shaken up and funny due to something like this that Jeff might do.

Sticking with the subject of food, Jeff certainly had a thing for the hottest and spiciest foods known to man. One summer, I was doing a summer college course program at Ithaca College, and when everyone came to visit me, we all went to a Thai restaurant. Of course Jeff ordered the hottest possible wings that they served there, an item on the menu that most customers would never think of getting because there are warnings on the menu about how hot they are. Even the waitress asked Jeff if he was sure he wanted to order these. But of course, that was right up Jeff’s alley! While most consumers of these wings would be running for the bathroom, he would just smile and keep chowing down! An amazing (and hilarious) sight to watch.

My favorite line about Jeff’s food-related adventures was written by Elizabeth Mo in her blog post from November 30, 2010 (“What’s Your Favorite Organelle?”). She wrote, “I do remember Jeff putting a brick of wasabi in his mouth. I was both impressed and horrified. Wasabi ain’t bland.” That was my brother, alright.

The list could just go on and on with memorable things Jeff said and did. I was a witness so often to this first one and I couldn’t stop laughing every time this happened. When my mom was in the kitchen and Jeff was in his room or anywhere else upstairs, she would call out to him if she needed him for something: “JEEEFFFFFF……”, and after a full two or three second pause, he would reply: “OOOOOOUUUUUUIIIIIIII!!!!!”, as in the French word for yes – this was his actual response! Let’s just say that whatever Mom was planning on telling him, she would be laughing so hard that she was unable to remember.

Speaking of one-in-a-million voices, Jeff had a favorite scene that he always imitated from the movie Bruce Almighty, that even had Brett unable to control his laughter. This is really saying something, because Brett was typically impatient with Jeffrey’s childish goofiness. He imitated an elderly lady in the most convoluted and outrageously funny voice that you could ever imagine. I don’t think I – or anyone – could come close to imitating Jeff’s version of this. It went like this:

Elderly Lady: “Man from Health Department say he find rat pellet in our pastry, but I say ‘No, it is big chocolate sprinkle’.  But man shut store down.  So we clean up, make big COOKIE, for to bring customers back.”

Bruce: “Well, I admire your candor.  Let’s try that again, shall we?  So tell me, Mama, why make Buffalo’s biggest cookie?”

Elderly Lady: “So the children of the neighborhood will be happy?”

Bruce: “That’s right.  It must be wonderful seeing the smiles on their little faces.”

Elderly Lady’s Son: “I work in back.  I see no smiles.”

You can forward to the 1:13 mark of the following link to hear this clip.  But trust me, Jeff did it better!  Brett, Jeff and I used to watch this movie all the time on long road trips, way back when, when we had a built-in DVD player with a screen that hung down in the back seat of our car. Jeff always imitated this scene when it was happening during the movie, and every time the rest of us would be more entertained by him than the movie itself. What an amazing memory.  http://www.metacafe.com/watch/an-YU6l2YYhbJmm/bruce_almighty_2003_giant_cookie_report/

Then there was the time my dad took Jeff, Brett and me to an interleague Yankees-Mets game at the old Shea Stadium.  It was probably around 2007. There was a short rain delay before the game started, and there was this middle-aged guy with completely white hair sitting in front of us who took the opportunity to take a little nap during this time after a beer or two (or more).  The funny thing, though, was that when the game finally started, this guy continued sleeping and snoring away!

All of a sudden, a guy sitting diagonally behind us and the white-haired guy, who was probably in his 20s, and who definitely used the rain delay to guzzle some beers, noticed the situation and began chanting “Wake up, white guy” in a sing-song kind of voice.  He was referring to the sleeping man’s hair, not his race. Jeff, of course, lost it and thought this was the funniest thing ever, so after the guy chanted again, “Wake up, white guy”, Jeff responded by clapping his hands in that familiar sports event rhythm—clap, clap…clap, clap, clap.

This gave the chanting guy the fuel to keep singing, “Wake up, white guy,” with Jeff responding with the appropriate clap, clap…clap, clap, clap, while laughing hysterically.  But then, before we knew it, our ENTIRE SECTION was chanting and clapping, with Jeff leading the way.  Even my dad got into it.  And the best part was that Mr. White Guy didn’t even stir! He kept sleeping right through it! It HAD to be one of the funniest experiences I can ever remember, and it’s a great example of how not only did Jeff define our family, but he also defined a whole section at Shea Stadium that day.

Again, it just makes zero sense that a man who could elicit laughter and joy from anyone, especially in THESE WAYS, is no longer here with us.

It sure drives me nuts just thinking about the possibility of him still being here. As I wrote about in my last post, what if I hadn’t locked my door all of those times when I was in high school? Maybe Jeff and I would have had countless moments, like the ones mentioned above, where we would be laughing together, just the two of us. I would do anything, even if it just meant for him to be able to come into my room one last time, holding a Petri dish of his ten freshly cut toenails, with a proud grin from ear to ear, which he thought was hysterical. He actually did this frequently.  He definitely had a unique sense of humor.

I wish I could just relive some moments from that family trip to Paris, seeing him pose just one more time in front of some knight in shining armor, making the knight the fourth guy in a photo with the three of us. Or walking up to the top of the Eiffel Tower again together. Or having him use his French vocabulary to help us order in restaurants or get us directions to where we were heading in the city. Anything.

On typical summer weeknights, Brett, I and my parents will often gather in my parents’ room before we all head off to sleep and head to our jobs the next day. We’ll talk about current events and things about our own lives that may be interesting to everyone. But of course, it’s just not the same without Jeffrey being there. This is an extremely obvious statement, but still so difficult to convey the pain to others at the same time.

And I know he would just love the fact that at the job I had this summer as a camp counselor, my campers in my group happened to be so diverse in terms of both behavior and background. He always loved to hear stories about the challenges I had with different campers (not so he could rub it in my face, but just to hear how needy and naggy some of the kids are at these camps). But the more “classic Jeff” story, that I remember so clearly, was how he used to count what number day of school it was during the school year. So now, I can only picture him asking how my 63rd or 92nd day of camp was on that actual day. What a shame that such poignant memories are merely dreams and imaginations now.

Well, all I can say now is that every time I use my car, I am at least reminded of these things. That’s because I have an actual photo image of him engraved into my keychain which holds my car keys, and it serves to remind me to live out each and every day for him and for our family.  And although Jeff’s cell phone will never be used again, my dad still pays the bill every month, so that we and anyone else can still dial his number (914 – 450 – 5601) and hear his voicemail greeting, even if it only is a few seconds long. This will always be possible to do, because my dad says he will be paying this bill for the rest of his life.

Anyway, it’s just inexplicable how much Jeff will be missed, especially on certain days like annual holiday events. When our family goes to church for services, afterwards there is a coffee hour where coffee and snacks are served. But every Christmas Eve, there is always a guy there who Jeff would call “the egg nog man” – because all he did was walk around with a large container, offering egg nog to everyone! He LOVED seeing this guy there every year, and he obviously made a huge joke of it to me and Brett – Jeff would imitate how he imagined this guy must slurp down the egg nog and then act drunk as a result. And of course, Jeff would try to keep going back and take as much as he could for himself! This is another example of how he always found a way to make a great, festive night even better and more memorable.

Now is the part where I attempt to digress and try to convey the more prominent meaning of this post – why it’s been nearly impossible to withstand the loss of Jeffrey, and why I mentioned in the beginning that he “defined our family”.

Holidays are the toughest. When our family takes the trip down to Church of Our Saviour every Christmas Eve, there is a gaping hole in the center spot of the backseat – where Jeffrey would be and should be sitting every year. I’m tearing up thinking about it now, just as I tried to restrain my tears this past Christmas Eve. He should still be sitting back there every year, making us laugh with joke after joke, story after story, bellowing out Christmas carol after carol in that hilarious half-mocking bellow of his. Every Christmas carol I hear, I can’t think but hear Jeff’s voice singing along in the background. Seeing the egg nog man doesn’t make me crack up anymore like it did when Jeff was around. This is what I mean when I say he “defined” our family; in other words, he determined our moods and how we felt, always the shining center of attention – he gave everything LIFE.

I remember that on November 6th, 2010 – it just seems like a few days ago – I was beginning my tenure at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, and I received a text from Jeff. I was a little confused, as it didn’t really make sense to me at the time. It said: “Drew man I feel like we’ve both gone thru some rough times in our lives… we gotta stay close and stick together, ok?” I just didn’t understand the nature of this text completely, because although I’ve struggled with a few trivial things in my lifetime, Jeff was always upbeat and optimistic about everything that was going on in his life – or so it had seemed. I was always away at school, and didn’t know the magnitude of his struggles, which had been only expressed to our parents.

Anyway, I obviously would have given anything to know that this simple text was an indication of what was going to happen just three days later. And I think, relatively speaking, that everyone (friends, family, and extended family) is still mulling over what we could have done to prevent the final drastic step that Jeff took on November 9th.

I remember exactly where I was at school, both when I received the text and responded to it. I simply said, “Yea, u got it”. I felt at the time that response was simple and reassuring enough for Jeff to hear, but I guess not. I wish I knew how things were at his end, because I just know that the two of us, and our parents, could have worked everything out together. If only he just let me know. At first, I thought I was the only one who had regrets about what more I could have done. But after speaking with my parents, I know that despite their incredible efforts, they continue to come up with “what if” scenarios. As for me, I just wish he came clean to me directly. If he had, I would have been totally there to help. Unlike in high school, this time my door would have been wide open for him. 

-Drew Klein

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Talkin’ Baseball With Jeff

13 Aug

“Let’s be clear about something at the outset: this is not the bizzaro Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce play. This is not an egregiously bad call that should have anyone renting one’s garments nor gnashing one’s teeth.  But it is inescapable. Johan Santana caught a lucky break on a missed call in the sixth inning of last night’s no hitter that, if called correctly, would have ended it right there.”

nbcsports.com, June 2, 2012

Dear Jeff,

It was exactly one year ago today that, as I sat between Drew and Brett at Yankee Stadium during a game against the Rays, I heard your voice in my right ear as Eric Chavez walked to the plate, and you told me that Chavez was going to walk and then Jorgie was going to juice one for a grand slam homer (See “My Precious Birthday Gift From Heaven”, August 17, 2011).  I promptly relayed that information to your brothers, and we proceeded to watch Chavez walk on four pitches and Posada (“Jorgie”) blast said grand slam into the right field seats on the third pitch he saw from Brandon Gomes.  It was exhilarating, and I was deeply grateful for that contact from you with such an amazing heads up on a great Yankees moment.

I always found it interesting that, as a player, basketball was clearly your best sport, but as a fan, baseball was right up there with it as your favorite sport to watch and follow.  That is why I chose to surprise you with a trip to see three different baseball games at out of town parks for your 16th birthday.  You always thought that going to different baseball stadiums was even more fun than going to other basketball arenas. Your greatest thrill on that trip was nabbing a foul ball off the bat of Ivan Rodriguez of the Marlins when we were at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia watching their game against the Phillies.  That ball, on which you wrote “Phillies vs. Marlins, 4/17/03. ‘I-Rod'” still sits in a plastic case on your dresser.

As we make our way through another exciting baseball season, I continue to miss how you used to email me frequently with various fun facts and observations on what was going on with the Yankees and in the baseball world generally.  Thankfully, Drew and Brett are also huge fans, and we have been watching many games together.

When you first went off to Middlebury in 2005, your biggest concern didn’t include the normal ones such as whether you’d be homesick or how the adjustment would be, or whether you’d make friends, etc.  You knew that would all be ok. Instead, you were most worried about whether your initial workload would interfere with the Yankees’ playoff games that fall and prevent you from kicking back and watching them.  Remember this email you sent me on October 5th, 2005?:

“I’m so excited to watch the Yankees this week, and my workload couldn’t have declined at a better time.  I had a math test on Thursday, French test yesterday, had a history paper due yesterday, and turned in my English paper today.  Which means I only have easy work to do the rest of this week (math problems, French exercises, etc.).  So it should be fun.”

I’m sure what you considered “easy work” would have been extremely difficult for the rest of us mere academic mortals, but if it was easy for you and enabled you to watch the playoff games, that’s all that mattered.

Jeff and AB

In the fall of 2006, right after you were given your own sports column in The Middlebury Campus, which you called “J.K. Rolling”, I was not surprised that you chose to write a National League playoff preview for your first article.  You were so excited about it that, on September 11th, 2006, you sent me a draft to critique prior to your submitting it.   I loved it but pointed out a slight error in something you had written about the Padres.  Your response was great and reflected your excitement at becoming a regular columnist:

“Haha I definitely was aware of that Padres thing, and honestly I knew you were going to notice it, so I just figured I’d let you find it.  Anyway it was so much fun writing the article.  I’m going to love this job, especially seeing my articles in the paper every week.”

You were so knowledgeable about the game of baseball that I always sought out your opinions.  On September 21st, 2007 I asked if you were upset about Joe Torre leaving the Yankees.  As always, you had read up on the topic and had formed a strong opinion, which you emailed back to me:

“No, I’m not really upset about Torre.  The more columns I read, the more I’m convinced that he was just an ordinary manager, not an amazing one.  Sure, he handled the media well, but he overused young pitchers and didn’t always make the best situational decisions.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’m sure Mattingly can do just as well.”

At the time, the media was speculating that Don Mattingly, not Joe Girardi, would succeed Torre, but Girardi got the nod.

You always watched Yankee managers with a critical eye.  Even during their championship run in 2009, you kept Joe Girardi on the hot seat.  On October 20th, 2009, the morning after the Yankees lost Game 3 of the ALCS in 11 innings to the Angels, you kept me up to date on your reservations about the Yankee manager:

“There has been a ton of commentary today about Girardi’s overmanaging, not just last night, but throughout the entire season.  Here are two articles about that:

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2009/columns/story?columnist=caple_jim&id=4578898

 http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/2009/10/20/2009-10-20_lupica_girardi.html

Just four minutes before the email about Girardi, you sent me this gem:

I had not heard that wild claim about such an upstanding citizen, but of course you immediately sent me the article you had read.

I loved how you always found a way to stay connected with your Yankees regardless of where you were, including during your semester abroad in London in the fall of 2007.  I got such a kick out of your email from September 21st, just a week after you had arrived over there for the semester:

“Right now I’m watching the Yankee game on my newly-working MLB TV.  It was a pitcher’s duel until Wang just gave up a frustrating two runs.”

For some reason, you always had it out for Wang.  Not long after the 2009 season started, on April 14th, you sent me this rando fun fact:

He probably had a couple of bad starts to open the season, and you were already on the poor guy’s case.  But you obviously sensed that this was a harbinger of things to come, and you were right.  He finished an injury-shortened season with a 1-6 record and an ERA of 9.64 (better than the 29 you referenced but still pretty awful).

Then again, you never had much tolerance for Yankee pitchers who were showered with big money to come play in New York and then never lived up to their billing.  Kyle Farnsworth was one such guy.  The flame throwing right hander seemingly had all the tools, but for whatever reason, he was a complete bust for the Yanks.  With every poor performance, your patience wore thinner. So you were overjoyed when he was finally traded in July of 2008.  The funniest thing, though, was how you stayed on his case even into the next season, when he wasn’t even in New York!  Remember the email you sent me on April 20th, 2009?

“Kyle Farnsworth has already been awful for his new team, accounting for 3 of the Royals’ 5 losses on the season (including two walk-off homers).”

Hilarious, Jeff.  George Steinbrenner would have loved having a tough General Manager like you.

I also remember how much you loved All-Star games in any sport and how we always talked about going to one someday.  Even though we never quite made it to one, (although you knew I had bought tickets for us for the 2011 NBA All-Star game two months before you died), you never missed watching one.  During the summer of 2008, when you were living and working in Boston, you sent me this email on July 14th, 2008 about the homerun derby:

“Wow, I can’t believe Justin Morneau stole the spotlight and won after Hamilton’s heroics!  Also, I don’t know how closely you were watching the HR derby, but I garnered pieces of information from the ESPN message boards and wondered if you saw…

1) A policeman choke a kid (who presumably ran on the field) during the derby that got caught on live TV?  Bloggers were screaming that it was yet another instance of police brutality.

2) Announcer Rick Reilly make a racist comment about the all-white participants?”

I loved how you once connected one of our baseball conversations to one of your NBA conspiracy theories.  Do you remember your response to me on May 7th, 2009 after I emailed you the news that Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for steroid use?  You wrote:

“I know, I saw that this morning and was shocked—not so much because I didn’t think he would ever use PED’s, but because the league actually took unfavorable action on one of its star players.  I feel like if it was the NBA and Kobe or LeBron got caught using a banned substance, the league would sweep it under the rug.”

More than anything, Jeff, I miss the raw passion of your beliefs and how you expressed them.  The best baseball example occurred not long before you inexplicably decided to leave us.  On June 2nd, 2010, umpire Jim Joyce made one of the worst calls in baseball history when he called Indians’ batter Jason Donald safe at first with two outs in the ninth in a game against the Tigers. Replays showed that he was out by a mile. Had the correct “out” call been made, Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galaragga would have pitched a perfect no-hit game and achieved baseball immortality.

You were enraged, though interestingly, not at the umpire.  Instead, the next day you took to your Talkin’ Sports blog (www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com) and banged out a post, entitled “Bud Selig Strikes Out…Again”, in which you railed at Commissioner Bud Selig’s decision to NOT officially reverse the blown call and award Galaragga the perfect game, as scores of fans and reporters had demanded.  You wrote:

“One of the worst calls in the history of sports has been cemented by possibly the worst decision in the history of sports.” You ended the post by writing, “He had the ball in his court—a clear opportunity to right the wrong, to extricate the league from this quagmire.  But instead, Selig struck out…again.  What a coward.”

Also that day, you went out and bought the New York Post, whose back page headline screamed, “Perfect Crime.”  You cut out that entire back page and tacked it to the wall in your room, where it remains today and will always stay as long as we live here. 

How ironic it is that almost exactly two years later, on June 1st of this year, Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets franchise history, but only because of a blown call in his favor.  Carlos Beltran scorched a line drive over third base that was ruled a foul ball.  It was clearly a fair ball.  He then grounded out.  I could almost hear you teasing Elon about how fitting it was that even when a New York Mets pitcher finally throws a no-hitter for the first time in the team’s 50 year history, it only happened due to a bad call.  I even visited your Talkin’ Sports blog, fantasizing that somehow you would find a way to post on this story from Heaven.  You didn’t.

And so here we are, Jeff, with the Yankees in first place again and potentially on their way to big things this postseason.  I am thankful that you were here to enjoy the 2009 championship and the wild parade that followed, but I so miss your emails and texts that used to keep me up to date on every aspect of the baseball world.  I’d give anything to know what you think of this season’s new playoff system, especially the one game wildcard round.  And what about the Washington Nationals’ rise to the top of the NL East?  The incredible story of the Mets’ R.A. Dickey? The comeback of Andy Pettitte?  Santana’s faux “no-hitter”?  The Yankees’ trade for Ichiro?

Although I’ll never know for certain what your views are on these things, speculating about them keeps me thinking about you in a productive way and keeps my mind away from the dark nature of what you did.  It’s the only way for me to march forward, and so I’ll sign off now and look forward to watching the Yankees open a four game set tonight against the Rangers.  And when Josh Hamilton steps to the plate for Texas, I’ll think back to that happier time in the summer of 2008 when you sent me the email about Hamilton’s homerun derby heroics.  Then the tears will inevitably come, and I’ll resume my daily battle to stay strong.

Enjoy tonight’s game from up there, son, and I send all my love,

Dad