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TVBarry Beck wouldn’t shoot the puck, Don Maloney didn’t always get back on defense and when Doug Soetaert was in net, well, I don’t remember a damn thing about Doug Soetaert.

These are names I haven’t thought of in 25 years. Back then, however, they were Gods. I’d have hockey cards littered throughout my grandmother’s New York apartment, ripping open pack after pack, looking for that elusive Phil Esposito or Mark Howe card to complete a random team set.

At night, if I was lucky, my older cousin would come over and watch the game with me. I’d chronicle the game on a yellow sheet of paper, trying to impress him with my ability to write down names based on jersey numbers. Laidlaw was No. 2. Beck was No. 5. There were two Maloneys, so I can’t remember which was which, but I think one was No. 26, the other No. 12. If I’m wrong, a Rangers fan will let me know. Here’s hoping Eric – that’s my cousin – reads this. He’ll weigh in. Trust me.

If Eric came over, the winter night was complete. Me, him, my brother – who was playing with Matchbox cars and couldn’t care less about the game – with Jim Gordon and Bill “The Big Whistle’ Chadwick on Channel 9. My grandmother’s old television could barely handle the stress, and no matter how often we moved the rabbit ears, the picture would flicker so wildly that only a punch to its side would fix it. There was no science to it, but smacking the clunker worked.

It was during those early days of my life that I first hoped to be a journalist, a chronicler of life. It was those broadcasts, when it was too cold to go outside, that I would take game notes and wait to see if Gordon and Chadwick had some of the same observations I had, all of which was scribbled on the yellow paper.

Last night, those memories flooded back after Chadwick died at 94.

Those WOR broadcasts helped shape my future. I still use a yellow legal pad whenever possible.

Had I known Chadwick lived on Long Island before his death, I would have found a way to thank him. May this post be my posthumous thank you. I hope his family reads this.

And in heaven, I hope for The Big Whistle’s sake that Beck shoots the puck. But I wouldn’t count on it.

DSC06725I can’t draw. Actually, I can’t draw a straight line. I can’t paint. I can’t draw a circle, they usually turn out looking like eggs.

So when friends and family pick out pumpkins for Halloween, I usually look for a nice, round, mid-sized one that I don’t have to do much to. No point embarrassing myself.

On Saturday the tradition continues, as I’ll take my two little ones to Brightwaters Farms to choose a few pumpkins, gourds, and, if it’s up to me, whatever else they want. I’d buy them everything. Perhaps if no one is looking – namely my wife – I’ll sneak extra decorative corn into a bag. The only problem is my little boy would turn me in. My daughter’s my partner in crime. She’d be game. She is my little rebel.

We’ll also take a hayride or two. I’m betting Amelia would be willing to drive. By the way, she’s 20-months old.

And when we get home, the process of turning the pumpkins into works of art can begin. Just keep the magic markers away from me. Let the real masters do their work.

At the end, light

2050500153_f288d92b26I don’t like to talk about Sept. 11, 2001, and this is the first time, and perhaps the last time, I’ll write about that day.

I’ve tried to shove all of it to the far corner of my mind, hoping that as the years roll by, the memories of the low-flying plane over the Hudson River, the crash that shook my downtown building, or the ash that covered scattered workers, would fade away.

But for those of us who worked in the financial district in 2001, there is no escape. Eight years after the fact, I accept that.

I ran my first 5K today, the Tunnel to Towers event in honor of fallen firefighter Stephen Siller. It took me 35 minutes to complete the race, which included a nearly two-mile run through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. About two-thirds of the way through the tunnel, I turned to someone on my right and said “the end has to be near, right?” He laughed – or was that a cry? – and responded “God I hope so.”

I wanted to stop and walk, but another runner to my left put his hand on my back and said “come on man, you’ve got it in you.” He was wearing a fire department shirt from an upstate New York town. I regret not remembering which town he represented. A few minutes later, as I slowed again, a firefighter from Worcester, Mass. came up from behind and said “no, no no, let’s go kid.” I couldn’t let them down. Not firefighters. Not on this day.

Then, as we came out of the tunnel, hundreds of firefighters lined up to cheer us on and say “thank you.” That’s when I understood … Sept. 11 won’t go away, and there’s no use hiding from it. It was time to embrace it. It may have added a minute to my score – yeah, that’s right, I’m already making excuses – but I high-fived every single firefighter standing to the right of our path. To each one of them, I repeated their words. I said “thank you.”

The rest of the race, including a run through the Battery Park Esplanade, was a breeze. The hard part, understanding why it was so important for me to participate, was over.

None of this means I’ll open up about my Sept. 11 experience. Chances are, I won’t.

But today was an awakening. My year has been filled with frustrations, as I’ve watched friends suffer tragedies and hardships, both large and small. I try to be supportive, but what else can I do? I wish someone had an answer to that question. Meanwhile, my industry, journalism, continues to struggle mightily, and there’s little relief in sight. For some families, the long-running recession has kept food off the table.

So Sept. 27 was a blessing, a needed reprieve. It was the best day of 2009.

I’ll sleep in peace.

Here’s hoping you do too.

Good night.

On the run

3032982026_60cf4d9a01On Sunday I’ll be in downtown New York, participating in the Tunnel to Towers run in memory of firefighter Stephen Stiller, who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

The goal isn’t to finish the 3.25-mile race in 34 minutes, or even in a substandard 45 minutes. The goal is to survive, to not be brought back to my Long Island home in a box. That would be bad. It’s also not out of the realm of possibility.

It’s a far cry from 1989, when, as a high school senior, I was scouted by the Winnipeg Jets ahead of the entry draft. The organization broke my heart when it passed on me, arguing that a 6-foot-5 defenseman better suited their needs. OK, I’m making up the Winnipeg Jets part. The “far cry” from 1989 part, yeah, damn it, that’s true.

How did I get myself in this mess? My brother in law asked me in May if I wanted to join him in a 5K race for charity. I said yes. Blame it on the 1/2 bottle of Yuengling.

It took a month before I reintroduced myself to the treadmill in the basement. In August I turned the treadmill on. It’s procrastination. Journalists don’t function without deadlines. By last week I was able to make it through 3.25 miles, with Conor Oberst and Green Day carrying me, barely, to the finish line.

But experts tell me running on pavement isn’t the same, it’s harder on the knees, and it’s tougher on the back. Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps two miles in I’ll sit down on the curb, or jump on a subway back to Penn Station, where the Babylon line runs hourly on weekends.

So if this blog isn’t updated for months, or if twitter.com/drhli is suddenly inactive, Sunday probably went horribly wrong.

Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.

Passing the torch

soccerballI don’t remember the hit, nor do I recall which one of my teammates hovered over me first. But I do recall the pain, as my knee hyper-extended for the third time in a year.

It was but one of a series of injuries to my right knee, my 140-pound frame balking at the abuse I put it through in high school. In the stands, my grandmother looked on as her favorite left-winger dropped to the ice, flopping around like a beaten ragdoll.

“Why can’t he play chess,” she asked my mother in Hungarian, while the rest of the crowd at the high school hockey game wondered if No. 24 was having a seizure.

The physical beatings would continue. There were plenty of back spasms. Then there was the night the knee popped on a muddy Fairfield University baseball field – a late night pickup game gone bad. That time, the doctors operated.

Years later, in college, I dove for a ball and slammed into a rock, suffering what I think was the only concussion of my life. I don’t remember. Anyway, I caught the ball, so it was worth it. Fellow wannabes know exactly what I’m talking about.

These days I do little more than swing my golf club, taking solace in the fact that I’m the best lefty in the foursome. Hey, it’s all I have, especially as I’m putting around the green like a child on a miniature golf course.

The glue factory may soon be calling.

So it sounds like the perfect time to step aside and let my little boy take center stage. On Sunday, he plays in his first athletic event, a soccer match consisting of four-year-old kids. He hardly knows how to kick a ball and, today, when I brought home his jersey, he asked, “Daddy do you score touchdowns in soccer?”

Baseball, football, soccer, what’s the difference?

The kicker (pun completely intended) is I’ll be the team’s head coach. That means for many of the children, I’ll be the first coach they’ll ever have.

That’s an honor. And it beats playing chess.

On forgiveness

DSC04282Sitting at the breakfast table this morning, my little boy listened as I talked to my wife – and mainly to the Sesame Street coffee mug  – about Michael Vick’s return to professional football.

The night before, as I finished a sluggish treadmill session, a text message popped up on the Blackberry that simply read “Michael Vick to the Eagles.”

For the next couple hours, followers – you don’t have friends on Twitter – traded messages about the newest member of the Eagles. A few took shots at me, perhaps, because I had the great timing of tweeting no more than an hour before the Vick news broke that I hoped “the Eagles kill the Patriots dead tonight.”

This morning, Donovan – I swear I didn’t name him after Donovan McNabb – asked, simply, “Who are you talking about Daddy?”

I told him “Michael Vick. He’s a new player on the Eagles.”

He asked me if I liked Vick and I answered, quickly, “sure buddy.”

I don’t regret my response for a number of reasons. First, it would be impossible to explain to a four year old the grizzly details of a dogfighting ring that landed Vick in a federal jail for 2 years. Puppies were murdered and forced to fight, and kill, each other. It all took place on property Vick owned.

But it’s more than that. I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 months, almost entirely because I reject the notion that it’s alright to kill animals. I’ve never held a gun and have no desire to ever, ever go hunting. Killing is not a sport.

So I’m clearly with the majority who know that what Vick did was reprehensible.  It was savage and, in fact, when news first broke that an NFL team has signed him, I felt sick.

But I also believe in second acts. I want my children to understand forgiveness and to avoid passing judgment when possible. If Vick trips up, he will pay the price. The National Football League will throw him out and he will have much bigger problems than whether my little boy liked watching him play. But if Vick helps the Humane Society, works with other animal rights groups, uses his star power to help local and national charities and handles himself properly on the football field, my little boy will learn that redemption is possible.

No matter the scenario, I answered the question correctly. Daddy got this one right.

IMG_0447It certainly won’t ruin the most wonderful time of the year, but news that the Kime Avenue house in North Babylon won’t be lit with its traditional 40-foot train, reindeers, snowmen and assorted holiday goodies put a damper on this perfect July day.

We moved to the Town of Babylon in late 2002 and started a family tradition of visiting the famed Kime Avenue house in 2004. Our little boy was born a year later and we’ve been to the Spadafora’s home to see the lights – and to donate to the Schneider Children’s Hospital – every year since.

When we drive down Deer Park Avenue during winter, Donovan points to the house, even in daylight, and says “that’s the light house.”

We’re not alone. The home means a lot to many area residents, which is why the Spadafora’s phone has not stopped ringing since Newsday reported this morning that the high cost of keeping the lights on would keep the home dark for the 2009 holiday season. The owner said that he is holding out hope for 2010.

Homes like this matter, and most towns have them, because they turn into unofficial gathering places for people of all economic classes, races, religions and ages. No one is too young, too old, too rich, or too poor to appreciate a home decorated in holiday cheer.

We’ll find a different place to take Donovan and Amelia this winter. I’m told there’s a light show in Bayport and homes in Deer Park, as well as nearby Dix Hills and Huntington also go all out in December.

For one year, at least, we’ll make do without the Kime Avenue house. One year, that’s it.

We’re going in 2010.