bightennis@aol.com

Saturday, December 10, 2016.  We had a chance to catch up last night with our close friends Ian and Namoi Arons.   Ian and Naomi live here in Scarsdale and we have been friends since we moved to town around the same time.

And we have lots of connections.  Jen and I went to Cardozo Law School with Naomi.   Ian’s brother Andrew, who recently joined the private equity practice at Kirkland & Ellis LLP (looking forward to finally seeing him in the office in a few weeks!), and my brother Drew, share a brother-in-law in comm0n.   [I always have trouble explaining this in an orally coherent way, but I think I just nailed it in writing by avoiding details.]  Hoping the “other” Arons’ and Sussberg’s move out to Scarsdale soon….

It has been a tough year and half plus for the Arons family to say the least.     Howie Arons a/k/a bightennis@aol.com — husband to Roni; Dad to Ian and Andrew; father-in-law to Naomi and Ashley; Papa Howie to his four grandchildren; and tennis coach to thousands over a 36-year career — was diagnosed with cancer that actually could not be diagnosed.  Howie passed away on October 13, 2016.   As I have learned over the last several months, including through incredible tributes to Howie at his funeral from his sons, ex-players and best friends, Howie was one of those magnetic people that made a difference in — and touched — so many lives.  The tribute to Howie below, which appeared in the TimesLedger on October 21, 2016  , says it all.


BELOVED CARDOZO TENNIS COACH HOWIE ARONS DIES AT 67

BY LAURA AMATO

The Queens athletic community lost one of its most prominent and successful names Thursday when longtime Cardozo tennis coach Howie Arons died after battling cancer. He was 67 years old.

Arons was a dominant presence with the Judges throughout his 36-year career, leading the program to a whopping 18 PSAL city championships. His leadership on the court was electric and while he retired from Cardozo in 2012, Arons’ legacy is something the Judges will never be able to shake.

“He was always the most positive, exciting person,” said Cardozo boys’ basketball coach Ron Naclerio, who considered Arons both a colleague and friend. “During the course of the year he would call me and I would call him and he would tell me how things were not going well, but he was so positive about it. He just told me, ‘I’m always going to keep fighting.’”

During his time at ‘Dozo, Arons racked up 584 career victories and just 51 defeats, but it was what he did once the matches were over that truly set him apart from other coaches in the area. Always ready to lend an ear or help finetune a serve, Arons’ relationship with his players was the defining characteristic of his coaching approach.

“I look at the history of this school and what it’s meant to me in my life,” Naclerio said. “And these big names were like my uncles and Howie Arons was my big brother. He always made you feel so good. He was just one of those people who walked into the room and he made everyone feel good.”

In addition to his work at Cardozo – where he was as an English teacher and eventually dean of the school – Arons also served as the co-director of the New York Tennis Academy at Great Neck Estates, sparking a successful junior program on Long Island.

He also ran the junior program at Alley Pond Tennis Center and devoted much of his time to helping foster an early love of the game for players across the area. In 2015, he was the recipient of The Vitas Gerulaitis “For the Love of Tennis” Award and was also a member of the Cardozo athletic Hall of Fame.

All of Arons’ hard work paid off – he saw more than 80 players move on to the Division I level, including both his sons, Ian and Andrew.

“If I had to say there was a Mt. Rushmore of Cardozo athletics and there were three or four people that had to be on it, he’s easily one of them,” Naclerio said. “Not just athletically, everything he did.”

Arons had not spent much time on the court at ‘Dozo since announcing his retirement, but the longtime coach was still regarded as one of the most important figures in the Judges’ storied athletic history. Naclerio knows that reputation won’t change any time soon either.

“One of his former players called me last night and told me that he’s meeting with a couple of guys, graduated in ‘83 and ‘84, at Cardozo so they can all go to the services together,” Naclerio said. “That’s the kind of impact he had. He said he never saw a teacher so enthused as [Howie] was. Thirty years later and he remembers that.”

Arons’ funeral will be held this Sunday, Oct. 16, at 12 p.m. at the Star of David Chapel, 1236 North Wellwood Ave., West Babylon NY 11704.


 

I only wish I had known Howie better.  From the couple of e-mails we exchanged this past May, you just knew you were dealing with a special guy.  I checked in with him to see how he was doing, noted I would love to get together if we could make it work, and told him that I was sure he was proud of his impressive and successful sons.   And I told him “there was so much to live and fight for.”  Ian, like so many of our friends, was at the hospital religiously during that “emergency” three week stay in late April and early May.   I only learned during some of those visits that the Arons family had been dealing with the same thing for many many months with his Dad.

Howie’s response?

“Thanks sooo much Josh there is not a day that passes that I don’t think of you and your beautiful family. I know you are going to win and beat the crap out of this shit I know it and I really appreciate this note from you. Love yo man Howie can’t wait to get together.”

I remember thinking immediately that Howie was selfless.  Not a word about himself.   This was evident in his email to me on May 22, 2016 (prompted after reading a post I entitled “Distracted,” which was caused by my “coasting” (after totally losing focus) into the curb on Heathcote Road with my brother-in-law and Jake in the car on the way to baseball team pictures).

“What’s up Josh the distraction is part of the Chemo Beast It’s called chemo Brain. After my 3rd treatment I drove to great neck. Middle neck rd. Tried to park saw a spot I I pulled in and hit another guy pulling out. Don’t know how I did it but was my fault. This chemo shit is powerful and we must more than focus. Roni drives at night because I get tired Go slow no hurry for anything stay in the now when possible. Believe in yourself”

Howie was taking his experience to make sure I felt better and believed in myself.  After e-mails like these, I was not surprised to hear from Ian and Andrew that Howie, who also found time to coach both of his boys (each of whom had highly successful tennis careers, including four years of college tennis at Indiana and Yale, respectively), regularly left “short” notes of encouragement or words of wisdom in the morning or before a match.   In fact, I had a chance to go through books of these notes (that dated back 30 plus years), and it was easy to understand why Howie had such a positive impact on everything he touched.  Including his most important accomplishment — his family.   And with Ian’s permission last night, we took our first page (of what will be many) out of Howie’s book and gave Jake this note earlier today before his basketball game.  Ryan will get a similar one tomorrow.

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There is something to be said for writing it down and having something to look back at.   This note is sitting on Jake’s night stand.  And I am sitting here writing another note for tomorrow based on a few things I saw and we discussed today.

Howie Arons was a legend that touched so many lives; that legend lives on and will certainly not be forgotten.

(Most) Important Meeting

Friday, December 9, 2016.   On our way in for chemo today, I was able to attend my oldest son’s (Jake) parent/teacher conference.  I rarely miss a game for my kids (even during the last 8 months), coach baseball for the oldest boys every season (except this past one), always make it to “back to school night,” and attend almost all school events.   But for some reason I cannot recall attending a parent/teacher conference.   It is usually hard to schedule these at a convenient time (like 8:15 am today when we were lucky enough to have my mother-in-law watching the kids and could switch to an early meeting because we had chemo (a decent excuse)).  Usually I just tell Jen to schedule these conferences when it works for her around school schedules, car pools and everything else she does for the boys.   These conferences inevitably get scheduled at the worst possible time (i.e., 12:30 pm when the kids have half days of school) and getting back from the city in the middle of the day (probably during a meeting) or otherwise being on the road, makes it hard to get there.   Jen always (and immediately) gives me the detailed download because she knows how much I want to be there, but understands that she has to schedule these at a time that just won’t work for both of us.   But after sitting in the conference today, I really do not ever want to miss one of these again.

I realized today (holding back a tear at the conference table with Jen and Jake’s teacher), that this conference was more important than any game or school play.   Sure Jake and Ryan think they are going to play in the NBA; and I have no intention of telling any of my kids they should do anything other than follow their dreams.  But raising a good and well-rounded person — who is dedicated to school and gives his all in the classroom AND in everything else that is important to him (like sports), is what it is all about.  And being able to listen to the teacher talk about my son today, reviewing his work, hearing about his progress and understanding from her what a dedicated student he is, made me way more proud than any basket or goal (even though I am intense and undoubtedly loud at every game!).

Ryan’s conference is next week and my schedule that day is wide open.   And while I am heading back to work in a few weeks more excited and hungrier than ever — fully intending to be running as hard as I can as soon as I am truly able — I am definitely going to run smarter.  I am going to schedule things together with Jen and we will figure out, with both of our schedules, what makes most sense for both of us.  Yet another silver lining in a pretty wild odyssey that started just 7.5 months ago…

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Want to be inspired?

Last night, James Connor — a running back at the University of Pittsburgh — was a recipient of one of the College Football Awards handed out each year to the most outstanding college football players.  James had a great season.   He ran the ball 208 times for 1,060 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.  He also had 20 receptions for 299 yards and 4 more touchdowns.  A remarkable season for any college running back.

Even more remarkable for a guy that had only 8 rushes for 77 yards (and 2 touchdowns) in 2015.   And heading into the 2015 season, after rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns in his 2014 sophomore campaign, the sky was the limit.   But this is why James was awarded the Disney Spirit Award, given to the most inspirational player or team.   2015 was a “lost” season.   James was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma around Thanksgiving of last year.   As you will read in the Washington Post article (link here  ) and hear about in the video clips from last night’s award presentation, cancer and chemotherapy did not get in his way.   By February he was back at practice (with a mask to protect his weakened immune system and unable to participate in tackling drills because of a port in his chest inserted for chemo treatments).   James was cancer free in May; the rest, well, it is inspiring to say the least.

Pitt plays Northwestern in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on December 28th at Yankee Stadium.   Not sure it is a good idea for me to sit outside at Yankee stadium on December 28th (just one week after the eight month protocol is officially done), but I am definitely thinking about it.   Not a Pitt or Northwestern fan (Pitt crushed Syracuse this year).  Like Holly Rowe, however, I am a James Connor fan.  And now that this is finished, I am heading down to the basement to walk on the treadmill.  [Fourth day in a row of chemo tomorrow and then a break until next Wednesday.   Four game series next week (Weds through Sat) followed by one last day of treatment on Wednesday 12/21.  We will deal with the maintenance program in 2017, 2018 and 2019 — just part of the drill.]

 

 

 

 

Home Stretch

Wednesday, December 7, 2016.   Man does it feel good to write this.   [It will feel even better on December 21 (and then again three years from now when the maintenance program is done).]   But first things first.

I always enjoy watching the Kentucky Derby and hearing the announcer say “[a]nd down the stretch they come.”   I don’t particularly like horses or horse races.   But the home stretch of the race always excites me.   And being able to get to “our” home stretch today is a sweet feeling.   We know this is far from over and it is certainly not lost on us that we are lucky and incredibly fortunate to be where we are today with an unbelievable network of support throughout.  We have, however, been confident from the get-go (and at the same time scared).

After two weeks of rest since the last treatment session, today marked the beginning of the protocol’s final two-week stretch.   We have eight more days of chemo, but the worst day (today) is behind us.   It included 5 different chemo treatments including another spinal tap procedure.   Only one chemo treatment each day the rest of the day  (through December 21).

Today was also monumental for me in that it marked the last spinal tap of 2016.  No matter how many there have been (12), I just cannot get comfortable with the thought of something going into the spine.   I start getting agida about 36 hours before.   Today I was shaking and they had to wait a few minutes before getting started (definitely had to do with the anticipation of being done done).  But I have the best care and they know at this point what a nudnik I am.   Jen being the foremost expert on both my attitude and how to handle it.  [While we have 12 more over the maintenance period, we will deal with them as they come…]

These next two weeks won’t be fun, but the last two weeks have been great.   While I have not necessarily felt great at all times, Jen is an expert at this point and we have been able to really enjoy our time together (as we have throughout).   A lot of this has to do with the reality that getting back to normal is in sight.   I finally feel comfortable getting back involved in minor things, knowing for the first time I will avoid false starts.   It will be a good thing for all of us.   My wife is as supportive as they come and knows how excited I am to get back to work.   That makes her excited.  [I also know she is excited to get her life back too as this has been the hardest for her.]  Health is the priority and I am not going to do something to jeopardize that (like running at my normal 110 mph out of the gates), but getting back to work as soon as possible is a priority for us too.  The lack of sleep over the last couple of weeks is partly due to medication, but mostly due to the excitement of being able to get back to everything we do.   Of course it will be with a whole new — and better — perspective on life and stress, together with an ability (hopefully) to avoid sweating some of the smaller stuff on a daily basis.   The silver lining in these last eight months has always been the time with Jen and the boys.  Lunch with Jen daily and a random Monday trip to the mall mid am are hard to top.   Hugs in the morning from the boys, dinner together every night and watching the Cavs (including tonight against the Knicks), does not get old.   I enjoy the moments more and will continue to for many years to come.

Thanks to everyone for the support that we have been blessed to have in so many different forms throughout these 8 months.  It started in late April and never stopped.  It means so much to us and makes all the difference in the world as we grinded — and continue to grind — this out.  It is something we are working to capture through a charitable organization that we intend to announce soon, which will be able to directly support some of the 2,000 families that are challenged with acute t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma each year.    More to come.

 

 

 

Camp Samoset

Wednesday, November 30, 2016.   When my good buddy Shai Waisman suggested that I keep a blog at the “commencement” of this entire experience, I was hesitant.   Shai thought it would be a way to keep people posted (per the original entry that Shai drafted).  He had it designed, came up with the titles (including “Sussinator,” which I think I just fully appreciated it actually says), and left the rest to me.  I was in the hospital for a few weeks and thought a lot about it.   And then it kind of just happened.  [Thanks again Shai; I know you know how much I appreciated this.]

I wrote the first night I got home (May 13).  And then almost 30 days in a row.   It was a good escape, cathartic and helped fill my day when sleep (because of medication) was very hard to come by and lots of thoughts were running wild.  Like many things in life it slowed down.   That was a function of a lot of things.   Including some tough times….some time to reflect…finally giving in to television…intermittent medication (like now)…not sure there was anything to say….not wanting to say anything.   The list can and does go on.   But at the beginning, when there was a strange euphoria notwithstanding being diagnosed with something associated with pain and fear, with so many people from so many different worlds coming together to show support and love (as I have been so lucky to have throughout these nearly 8 months and my entire life for that matter), there were places and things I thought about taking the time to write about because those places or things were/are so important to me.   One of those places was Camp Samoset in Casco, Maine.

Today seems to be an appropriate day to make that happen and properly reflect.   Unfortunately it is bitter-sweet.  Earlier today, I drove to Boston with my brother to attend a memorial service for Arthur Savage, who owned and directed Camp Samoset with his wife Barbara for 21 years.   Arthur passed away the night of Thanksgiving (after spending his favorite holiday with his family) following a one month battle with a very aggressive form of kidney cancer.  He had just turned 80 years old.

Arthur and Barbara had lasting and indelible impacts on so many campers and counselors over their years at camp.   My brother and I were fortunate recipients.   Fortunate, in the first instance, to be able to spend two months each summer as kids running around playing sports and participating in activities in an environment that allowed you to be you.   Without the pressures attendant to the other 10 months each year.  It was never lost on me that this was a privilege.   We were even more fortunate to stay on as counselors and learn things that we no doubt remember and use today.   Lessons about life you just could not find at a summer job or internship.  Sounds cliché.  But it is true.  Those were years that helped define us.   [Earlier today, Drew attributed his organizational skills to being in charge of dozens of campers during day trips to water or amusement parks; to this day Drew is still amazed that Arthur and Barbara left him in charge of not only all of the cash, but making sure all the kids were accounted for on the bus both to and from the trip.   So am I.   He was probably no older than 17 and needed a chaperone in his own right.   I had some more “meaningful” experiences in my humble opinion, but as I told Drew today, to each their own!].   All these lessons and experiences were made possible by Arthur and Barbara.  They were directly responsible for the teachings or the putting in place of the right people to serve as role models and do the teaching.  I can to this day recount dozens of moments and conversations, several of which I close my eyes and can be transported to the scene.

This was always the case and it was on complete display today when Barbara and Jackie read some of the email messages that were sent over the last month when Arthur became sick and was no longer able to speak on the phone.  The messages were amazing and such a tribute to the way Arthur (and Barbara) conducted themselves and touched so many.   I last spoke to Arthur in May (from 1-3 am, when I first got sick).  We had not spoken in a while but we caught up quickly without missing a beat, as is often the case with camp relationships.   I only wish I had properly thanked him for everything at that moment rather than through an email just a few weeks ago….

Arthur and Barbara are also the parents of Jackie and Rob, who I literally grew up with at Camp Samoset.   We all met in 1989 (my first summer was 1988; the Savages bought Samoset in 1989).    Rob and I were in the same bunk in 1989 when we were 11 years.   We were not best friends at first.  In fact, we weren’t friends at all.   Rob switched bunks until we were 14.   Bottom line:  I was a jerk and gave him crap because his parents owned the camp.  Things started to change as we grew up.   And during the five years we were at camp as counselors together, getting opportunities from Arthur and Barbara to help run major functions of the camp as we got older, we were inseparable.  This included my sole reality television experience in 2000 (the summer we graduated from college and before I went to law school) when Rob and I–because of our long time camp experience and relationship from camp with Rhett (the “original” )–were selected to be counselors not at Samoset, but at a camp in New Mexico that was featured on the television show “Bug Juice” on the Disney Channel.   [Another story and unbelievable experience in and of itself.   No surprise, Rob (the current actor living in LA) was selected to live in the bunk with the kids and was the focus of the show; I lived in a tent alone and served as the Director of the Boys’ camp (looking for some good cameos while I studied for the LSAT)].  A great experience, but it was not Samoset.   We did, however, bring many Samoset traditions to Bug Juice and put them on full display for 14-year-old kids in certain parts of the US (who watched the show, together with our families and my new girlfriend at the time, who turned out to be my wife.  And we didn’t get married because of my TV career; Jen would come over Sunday’s to see most episodes, most of which I appeared in for 30-45 seconds.  No DVR in 2001 and she usually wasn’t paying close attention).

It is not a coincidence that I have maintained a close relationship with Rob and other people from Samoset for nearly 30 years.   I always will.   It was an important and defining time in some of my most formative years (10-21), and the lessons and experiences are consciously and subconsciously with me daily.   I met some of the best people I know at camp.   Including the Savages.   It is days like today where you really appreciate opportunities that not many people are afforded.

Thank you Arthur (and of course Barbara, who I will continue to thank as I should have been for a long time) for everything from the timeless lessons to my friendship with Rob.  Thanks for always letting me be me.  You guys were and always will be family.   It is pretty amazing that so many other people, from so many different places and backgrounds, share the same sentiment.  Too often we do not get to say thank you until the end.   I realize it doesn’t have to be that way…..

Barbara, Jackie and Rob.   Thinking of you and so grateful to have you guys.   Thanks for everything, including sharing Arthur with all of us.  Rob said it well today.   We are all better off for knowing Arthur, who was truly one of a kind.


I was truly honored when Jackie read part of the note I sent to Arthur (through Rob) on November 17th.  It was obviously personal and something meant for the family.   But as Jackie read various messages from so many people who had reached out, I was so comfortable and proud that people could hear out loud how important this family had been to me.   I don’t need an email reminder of that.   But for those that knew Arthur and the Savage family, I am thrilled to share because I know you might be thinking and feeling the same.

11/17/16

Rob.   Please get this to your Dad.

Arthur — I heard the awful news from Rob today.  And I understand that email is the best way to get in touch.  Too bad as I would have really enjoyed another two-hour conversation in the middle of the night; it was great to catch up with you live over the summer.  We cut through the bull sh*t in about five minutes and got to the important stuff; how big of a di*k I was as a 10-year-old kid; the many times you should have fired me; and the unbelievable friendship that I have with your son (this is soon to be 30 years old).

You and your family have had a massive and incredibly positive impact on my life and the person I am today.  I am sure it sounds corny and comes at a time when emotions are running 100 miles per hour in thousands of directions, but I wanted to say thank you.   Not sure I ever really thanked you properly or on an unqualified basis . . . Truth be told, a proper thank you is impossible to put in words when you think about what camp means to me…

I know lots of people who were privileged to have a great experience.  And as a kid, I had a great experience.  But it was really the 5 years as a counselor where I learned the most — about myself and life more generally — and developed a special relationship with Rob and the entire Savage family.  Thanks for making that possible.  You and Barb gave us responsibility and I learned so many things that were on “time release” (i.e., I didn’t even realize how certain experiences and moments at camp would come in handy years down the road and help shape the person I ultimately would become).  Those 8 weeks were my favorites 8 weeks of the year.  That was a function of the atmosphere you guys created and your willingness to let us succeed and fail.  And I say “us” because I felt like part of your family and rarely did anything without Rob.  (I still remember when you called me and said you were flying me in for Rob’s 20th surprise birthday party [not 21 by the way because Arthur was truly one of a kind].   Not that I would have missed it, but that phone call and invite meant the world to me.  And I am sure I was “too cool” to say thank you on a truly unqualified basis at the time….).

I don’t use an electric razor often, but I was forced to use one over the last 8 months to avoid infections.  For better or worse, I think of you every time it turns on.  You are walking into the dining hall — a few minutes late for breakfast — with the electric razor fully engaged on your chin.  Then, fast forward, and I immediately think about you catching me in the fridge eating macaroni salad at 1 am.

Thinking of you.  And thanking you for everything.


 

Poetic that Arthur’s electric razor sat outside the memorial service on a table with pictures of his family, grandchildren and camp.

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