Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Keeps Me Busy-Ish

Hey, it's me, Richie Jay. Maybe you've been wondering where I've been. Maybe you haven't even noticed my absence, entranced as you are by my father's writing.

But if you have been curious, here's what I've been up to: Word on the Slopes!

Ski Butternut, the mountain where I grew up, taught ski school, and where my mom still works on patrol, wanted to start up a blog, so I stepped in and offered my expertise. About half of the blog posts are Butternut-specific, but the other half are general interest stories about winter sports in general. With the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics coming up, I hope to post some of the best highlights on that blog. (I've already written a post full of links for Olympic junkies, and I'll be adding some video clips of the Winter X Games shortly.)

So, while you're spending time at work reading my dad's blog, waste a little more company time on my latest endeavor, if you please. Word on the Slopes: The Ski Butternut Blog.

Early Bird Special

I am an early bird special waiting to happen.

It was 8PM on Saturday night when Jo and I walked into the apartment. Our evening with friends in New York City had concluded. Midnight is now considered a time to wake from a deep slumber and maneuver in the dark to the bathroom, not to wander home from a social engagement.

You know it's a serious issue when you start to rate your friends by their dining, or bedtime routines. You have cut off a large chunk of society from consideration when you choose not to socialize with anyone who wants to go to a 9PM movie. Success of a night out is now determined not by how late it ends, but how early.

I am sure that many we have gone out with snicker, or just shake their heads. Even while they may enjoy our company, they are just finishing lunch when we are ordering dinner. It is hard from their perspective to see a future in our relationship, at least for the next 20 years. Most are simply resigned to tolerating our schedule.

As I look back, I see that the signs were evident even in my youth. Many years ago, when Jo and I were first married, we were at our apartment entertaining friends. I fell asleep on the floor early in the evening. The next time we socialized with this couple, I was given a present. The box of "No-Doz" was handed to me without comment. What was once a joke is now a reality.

So, for all of you who are now sleeping soundly, having recently concluded a long night of socializing, I wish you well. As for me, it is now 3:50 AM and I will try to get the second half of a night's sleep. I have been awake for 2 hours, after slumbering for 3. For the moment, I merely stare into the night and wonder why there isn't an early bird breakfast special. I haven't eaten anything in almost 10 hours and I'm hungry.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Friends (Update)

And so I left you in the middle of the story. The weekend is over and I basically managed not to put my foot in my mouth or my nose where it doesn't belong.

I tried to keep my distance, physically and emotionally. Well, at least to the best of my limited capacity. Friday night I arrived too late to do anything but head to my designated lodging. Both Saturday and Sunday, I mingled with the assembled at the apartment and on the slopes. I was jovial but never too intimate. Well, almost never.

There was this one ride up in the chairlift, shared by me with Alex and one of her friends. "It is great having you here, and we fully expect to see you here again before the end of the season". Before I finished the sentence, I knew I had made a mistake. My daughter simply looked laughingly at me and said "boundaries."

As the weekend concluded, everyone packed up their belongings and headed off to resume the lives that awaited them. When Alex got back to her apartment she emailed her thanks and told us how much she loved us. There could be no sweeter message.

So, maybe I am growing up a little. Since this went so well, I wonder if Alex has plans to invite the gang back up soon. I just want her to know the house is 'free' this weekend.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The State of the Union (not so good)

The real question is not so much what he says, but who is still listening. In a year where soaring rhetoric has been met with continuing crushing reality, we are now at a point where we are like the football player speaking to his agent, Jerry McGuire: "Show me the money".

We will hear in tomorrow's speech of successes achieved, of disasters averted, of progress made and brighter days ahead. We will be told of ways to reign in Wall Street, to buttress Main Street, to place restraints on the wrong kind of government spending and push ahead with appropriate funding. We will be advised about this and we will be instructed about that. We will be reminded of our strength, our courage and our greatness.

While most State of the Unions are met with a wink and a yawn, this one may not even reach that level of import. President Obama has mesmerized us with his words but disappointed us with his deeds. Whether or not the fault lies with him, the buck stops at his doorstep. Don't tell us any more Mr. President. Don't make us equate you with the 'boy who cried wolf'. Don't promise what you can't deliver. Just show me the money.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I am being kicked out of my apartment this weekend.

Well, the truth is that I am really only being temporarily displaced. Alex has managed to gather a herd of friends to head up to the wilds of Great Barrington for 48 hours or so of a big slumber party at our apartment. Many of her old high school gang are reuniting, along with some others she has grown close to through the years.

No matter how much I like to think that my presence would be a welcome addition at this event, it would not.

I am one who has long labored under the misconception that the friends of my children are actually also secretly looking to socialize with me. I am wrong. While I believe my children love me dearly, my inability to understand my limited role relating to their generation, has certainly caused my children aggravation over the years.

It is a continuing struggle for me to realize that my appeal is not universal. There is a time and place for me and it is not all the time and not everyplace.

So, for this weekend, Jo and I will be bunking next door at the apartment of a neighbor who is out of town. I know my tendency will be to search for every possible excuse to find myself just across the landing, just for a minute. I will have forgotten my ski gloves. I will need some diet soda. It will be too hot, or too cold, or too dark or too light for me where I am staying. I will just want to say hello, or hello again. I will, I will, I won't.

Remember this mantra. There is a time and place for you and it is not all the time and not everyplace. There is a time and place for you and it is not all the time and not everyplace.

Lock the doors and shut the lights. I might not be able to help myself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010



As I sit and listen to the incredible news as it unfolds, my mind wanders back to that historic night in November, 2008. I was so certain of what that night meant and what it foretold. I was wrong then, and I wonder if I am wrong now about the meaning and effect of the loss of Ted Kennedy's old seat. Have the Democrats lost control, or are they merely being given a very loud wake-up call?

If there is one thing I have learned in the last 14 months, it is that trying to predict the future based on the present can be a very tricky concept. Wasn't the Republican party a dinosaur headed for extinction? Weren't the remaining zealots a laughingstock and not worthy of continued acknowledgment?

The Democrats have failed miserably at reminding the public that they inherited a disaster caused by monumental errors, both foreign and domestic, of a Republican President and Congress. They have failed to remind us that the Republicans do not offer solutions, but merely obstruct the mechanisms of effective government. With all due opportunity, the Democrats have failed to silence the opposition and have instead allowed them to direct the dialogue.

But let's see where the days and months ahead lead us. Health care reform, unemployment, Afghanistan, regulatory changes in the credit and banking industries all present continued chances for the Democratic party to assert itself. It is abundantly clear that steps taken by them will have to be taken alone. If the party has neither the nerve or the political wherewithal to put its mouth where the money is, then bad times for all of us, and undoubtedly for the party, may well continue unabated.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti, and the Act of Giving

My mom used to tell me of the story of a man who did a terribly unselfish act for the benefit of a stranger. When asked why he would do such a thing, he replied that he was not motivated to act to give help to another, but because it made him feel better about himself. Well, at least that is the way I remember the story.

I understood the tale to tell us, in a positive way, that being generous of spirit can be viewed at it's core as an act of selfishness. It is making one feel better about oneself that truly stimulates the action.

What do you think?

PS - My son just read this post and reminded me of an incident that occurred in my life 40 years ago.

One afternoon, while I was living at home and still in high school, I received a call from a friend asking if I could travel from New Jersey into New York City to the car impound. His car had been towed and he did not have the money necessary to pay the fine and towing charges.

When I arrived, there was a long line of people waiting to pay the necessary costs and retrieve their vehicles. A young black woman and her child were there, clearly distressed. Upon inquiring, I was told she needed $10 more or she couldn't get her car back. I handed the woman the money and received her thanks. She asked for my address and promised to repay me as soon as she could.

That night I told my parents what had transpired. My mom praised me for my kindness, but advised me not to expect to ever see the return of the funds I had given out.

The following week I received a letter in the mail with $10 inside. That bill has remained in my possession for 40 years and serves as a constant reminder to me of all that I received by one simple act of giving.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


This is kind of an annual pilgramage for me now. It is a journey back over the years of my mom's life. She turns 92 today.

While I look back as the events of a lifetime of experiences with my mom appear before me, my mom's ability to gather up the information stored somewhere inside of her continues to dissipate. She is restless, ever restless these days as she finds a world that daily becomes less and less distinct.The line between fantasy and reality seems to blur more with each passing moment.

It is her attachment to her childhood in Lodi, New Jersey that draws her in now. It is from that place, almost three quarters of a century ago, that she ventured into the world. With increasing frequency she now advises me that she is going home to Lodi tomorrow. All recollections of times and places since those early days seem to be disappearing.

I want to be able to look into the universe she now sees, to be able to enjoy and share the visions that come to her. Her present home, in which she has resided for 30 years, seems foreign and disquieting. There is nothing familiar or comforting to her there.

I visited the house in Lodi in my very early childhood. My mom's parents were still alive, but both would soon pass away. I remember the big tree in the backyard, the detached garage, the kitchen table that eventually ended up in my house many years later. My visions are spotty and remote. I have only the hazy images of a little boy who has to spend part of a day traveling to see relatives and forced to do something other than whatever it was he would rather have been doing.

For my mom, it was in this house in which she and her 4 siblings grew up. There was a baby brother, spoiled and pampered I am sure by 4 older doting sisters. There were relatives of my grandparents who also inhabited parts of the house. There were boyfriends, and sleepovers and activity, always activity. My grandparents owned and operated a 'mom and pop' store in town. I am forever told of a house full of love, laughter and people. It was the center of my mom's universe.

It is to this warm sheltering place that she now seeks to return. This place was not confusing, not uncertain, and not forbidding. It offered only peace and promises of a beautiful life that would be unfolding. It offered hope and was a place of unconditional love. Who wouldn't want to go back there, especially when the world around now seems anything but what Lodi was?

So, on her birthday, my wish for my mom is that everything she wants comes to her. I hope tomorrow she wakes up and finds herself once more in a place that holds only beauty and wonder. I hope that for all the remaining tomorrows she is given, that the world she sees when she opens her eyes and until she closes them is as wonderful as the one she remembers in Lodi.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Let's see, commitment to the environment,concentration on education, health care reforms, equal treatment of the sexes, an economy bolstered by government action, no military, and a lush, beautiful, warm setting. Why wouldn't one be happy under those circumstances?

We are generally a less happy people for many reasons, and the above list is a good starting point. We are in a difficult period, one in which we treat many of our citizens and our environment with equal disdain. When so many are out of of work and hurting, when basic needs like health, education and welfare are treated not as rights but privileges, when the disparity between the haves and have-nots widens each day, when we seem unable to address the critical issues of the moment with any sense of reality and joint purpose, we are going to be unhappy.

War is not a good thing, and our unrelenting commitment to wage battle is confounding and deeply troubling. Yet, even in the context of a country chasing shadows around the world, if we just gave those around us the sense that each of them mattered, and that we were attending to their needs with a sense of urgency, we would be a much happier people. Maybe not as happy as the inhabitants of Costa Rica in the shangri-la described by Mr. Kristof (The Happiest People, New York Times, January 7, 2010), but at least we would be 'moving up the charts'.