Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Babysitters

The back door had barely shut when we heard a thud and then a scream. It was coming from the den and it could mean only one thing: our babysitting had gotten off to a very bad start.

Our good friends were away for the weekend which gave Jo and me the opportunity and excuse to serve as surrogate grandparents for the evening. With the shiner that appeared to be forming underneath our ward's eye, our substitute career looked like it would be one and done.

I understand that mothers and fathers face minor disasters every few minutes of every day. But the baby had already gone to sleep before his parents left for their night out, and thus our responsibility was only to protect the health and safety of one little 4 year old.

Jo ran into the kitchen to find ice to help with the swelling. She came back with an icepack formed to look like a friendly face. The next few minutes were devoted to finding some way to convince the now calm tiny person sitting next to me that she should hold this freezing object directly against her eye. It was soon apparent that she could out-logic me and thus would have to come to this decision through her own devices.

Luckily, she determined that it was in her best interest to treat her wound in the manner suggested. Within a few minutes, the swelling subsided and our role as guardian seemed once more secure.

While our young friend normally had an 8 PM bedtime, that would not be the reality of this evening. As the movie she was now watching in its entirety for the second time in several hours did not end until close to 9 PM, it was only then that the next psychological battle would begin. We searched for just the right bedtime story, which turned out to be an old one involving Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Pluto. Somehow, she agreed that only one book would suffice.

When the story ended, the genius that resided inside her tiny head, surfaced. "Sometimes I have bad dreams. Sometimes I don't fall to sleep. Sometimes there are monsters." My words were soothing and I assured her I would be downstairs with Jo if she needed us. I tip-toed away and readied for the inevitable. It came within seconds. "I had a bad dream" she advised.

Jo prepared a make shift bed on one of the big chairs. "Lie down and close your eyes". Within a few minutes, the sound of gentle snoring was coming from that chair. The room was now dark, and Jo didn't dare turn on the light to read, for fear of the possible results.

A dark room, the fireplace blazing, and soon there were 2 people asleep in this room. Luckily, Jo managed to keep her eyes open until the return of the now refreshed parents at about 10:30 PM.

When we told of the evening's events, the response was knowing smiles and laughter. For us, it was all new and scary. To them, it was what yesterday was like and what tomorrow would certainly be. The baby started to cry from his crib, just as we put our coats on to leave. I didn't offer to go up. I decided to leave well enough alone.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Songwriter

Paint me a picture inside my head
Show me the colors of life
Tell me, is anger a deep, dark red
And love a transcendent white

Speak of the cheating boyfriend's last chance
Or fears of a lonely wife
Talk to me of the very first dance
Or morning's translucent light

Weave me an image out of your words
Make it all beauty, or not
Bring me the dirty truth's that you heard
Or lies incandescent hot

I want to believe in angels and more
Feel passion's forever embrace
Make me cry out, forgotten and poor
In search of kindness and grace

Let me hear secrets only you know
Whisper them softly to me
Raise up my eyes to heaven's glow
And touch visions you alone see

You who write songs, write songs for my eyes
Write songs for my heart, my soul
Write songs of dreams, hellos and goodbyes
Write songs of the broken and whole

Paint me a picture inside my head
Show me the colors of life
Tell me, is anger a deep, dark red
And love a transcendent white

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

This year, I give special thanks to:

1) The bicycle - At an age when "newly discovered" normally requires an anxious trip to the doctor, I found myself taking pleasure in pedaling through the Berkshires and around Manhattan. Does this mean spandex is in my near future?

2) Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, John Boehner and the rest of the gang who couldn't think straight - Even as you try to 'refudiate' virtually everything I believe in, as you point, gesticulate and pretzel logic, as you strive to make stupid the new smart, you keep my mind active and my blog posts flowing.

3) Yankee Stadium - It is there that I find the pure joy of walking through the turnstiles with my children, knowing that I will spend the next hours happy, even if my team loses, the weather is bad, and the game drags. However, next year, just once could I actually be there to see victory for the home team while a gentle warm breeze blows across my face and a conclusion is reached in less time than a Congressional filibuster.

There is so much I have to be thankful for, but the rest I will hold for private moments. Yes, there are certain thoughts I do not share with you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


When I began reading the paper this morning, I decided that our government, and the New York Times, were playing an April Fool's joke on all of us. Then I checked the calendar and came to the sickening conclusion that what could only pass for bad fiction, was in fact an even worse reality. Can it be that we have really been in peace talks with a fraud ("Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Imposter")?

Move over Clifford Irving. Step aside Michaele and Tareq Salahi. Get off that plane, Frank Abagnale, Jr. There is a new king of fake in town. His name is (or more accurately, is not) Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour.

I don't understand this. I thought we were able to tell what each of the Taliban leaders was eating for breakfast. If we don't have a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the workings of the enemy, is it too much to hope that we at least know what they look like? How can we aim our smart bombs at them if we can't even tell which ones we are actually trying to kill?

We are now almost a decade in to the Afghanistan struggle. We appear to be wandering the mountains without a clue of how to get out. As money pours out to a phony second in command, we place our hopes for peace on what turns out to be nothing but a mirage.

This war has been increasingly hard to justify, as we count lives lost or damaged beyond repair in pursuit of an indecipherable goal. It just got harder.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Last Day with My Friend

A friend of mine passed away at the end of the summer. He struggled for months to try to overcome an illness that ultimately neither he, nor modern medicine could conquer.

There was no funeral service, no grave, no ceremony. As he wished, my friend was cremated.

Years ago we bonded in a common love for a little mountain in Massachusetts. In truth, we may have also shared a common love of my wife. My friend's wife often advised that, in the event of my demise, her husband indicated he would immediately divorce her and marry Joanne. But that is not the focus of this tale.

The morning was cold and drizzly, raw for mid-October in the Berkshires. Jo and I, along with several others, met, as planned, at ski patrol. Some dressed in rain gear, all were readied with gloves, hoods and other garments designed to combat the elements.

The parking lot was nearly empty. The patrol room we entered had not yet awoken for the coming ski season. It was full of clutter, unlike the way my friend had seen it for over 3 decades.

Images of other times in this room came flooding into my mind, and I am certain to all those gathered. For some it may have been of my friend addressing the urgent needs of those lying in pain, or maybe putting on his patroller's jacket as he prepared to meet the cold awaiting him outside the door. It could have been of his observing quietly as the events of the moment swirled around him, or as his wife told her tales. Maybe he was emerging from behind the door of the patrol director's office as he finished up a conversation with his good friend for whom he served as both sounding board and sometime mentor. I always pictured him, much like my wife, in the role of the sherpa, in charge of dealing with almost everything related to readying not only himself, but his other half for the day's events on the slopes.

The colors of the fall were all around. As we looked up towards our destination, we saw the oranges, yellows, reds, browns and greens that our little mountain offered as gifts to those assembled.. We all headed to the chairlift, which was started up for the sole purpose of taking us, and the remains of our friend, toward the heavens.

In groups of threes or fours, with flowers, booze, shovel, prayers, our thoughts, and one small box we ascended.

When the lift could take us no further, it gently stopped. We all stood as one, on familiar ground but in a very unfamiliar scene. The white of winter that had always been our partner at this spot was no where in evidence. Instead, we huddled against the damp and cold and discussed where we were heading.

This was where he had stood guard so often, waiting for the call to come to the aid of someone in distress. It was here he also met up with friends and fellow patrollers to begin a joyous descent down these slopes . It was here that so much of what was important to him resided.

Finally, a decision was made and we all walked along a trail that our friend had taken literally thousands of times over the past decades. After a short while, we halted. This was where he, and we, wanted his journey to end.

A small hole was dug just off to the side of our path. A portion of what had once been my friend was gently placed inside. A bottle of his favorite scotch was opened, and a shot or two poured where he lay. A prayer of thanks was said, a poem was recited and then we all put flowers on top of our friend's now covered new home.

Then we were done. It was short and it was peaceful, and it was wonderful.

What better resting place in death then in a place you loved during life. Where better to be?

While this little mountain in Massachusetts has always held a special place in my heart, it will forever more have a deeper meaning. Each time I pass my friend along the way, I will stop to ask him how his day is going. I hope he will tell me to wait a moment so he can snap into his skis and we can take a run. See you on the hill my friend.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What Ifs

As we use our hands-on approach to combat terrorism, and grope our way to try to find solutions, I try to envision a different world. I know we don't reside in a land of counter-factuals, but what if:

The hanging chads had hung in the favor of Gore in those days after the November 2000 election? Or

The voices inside W's head had not told him to attack and attack again? Or

There had been the institution of a draft that required that not only their child, but yours and mine were at risk?

Would we still be looking for the inner secrets of the babies and the grandmothers as they prepared to take flight? Would we still be residing in a place of ever escalating fears? Would we still be subjected to the same level of psychological and physical invasions that we must now daily endure?

In retrospect, we seem to have made so many bad decisions that has led us to the screening room. If we had taken an alternate path would we now be stronger or weaker?

Those who perpetrated the wrongs of 9/11 could not possibly have envisioned the havoc that would consume our minds and bodies nearly a decade later. They have succeeded in creating a world where we are forced now to look inside the heads, and pants of each of those who come before us to assure that their hearts and their bodies are not wired for our destruction.

Terrorists seem to have grown more resolute, not less, over the years. I only ask what could we have done differently, what could we have done better. I do not pretend that the questions I raise are answers. I only wonder what if.

Friday, November 19, 2010

How Do You Spell Team (with an I)

In response to Paul Krugman's "Axis of Depression"-

Success in failure. This is the guiding principle for Republican response to Democratic initiatives. Forget that most of the emaciated remains of the health care bill mirror the earlier Republican plan of Mitt Romney. Disregard the fact that the Start treaty follows through on a concept championed by none other than the Gipper himself. If they seek it, we don't. What we have is a U.S. with no us in it. Self interest is not defined by the Republicans as what is good for the country but rather what is good for their party.

It is inconceivable that Mr. Bernanke could be stunned by negative reaction in our midst to what one would otherwise consider standard economic reaction to try to reverse the trend towards depression. We have watched for over 2 years while time after time the illogical has masqueraded as political philosophy.

It is a harsh time out there, made more brutal when we have to fight not only those from without but those from within. It is a day when the line between friend and foe has blurred. It is a moment when governing has become almost impossible.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hocus Pocus

To the Editor:

Like the magician who tries to convince us he can pull a rabbit out of a hat, Brooks waves his wand in "The Two Cultures," hoping that he can make us believe in an illusion that he has created.

The reality is that liberals are the ones who respond both to the concerns of the people and of the marketplace. It is the conservatives who robotically subscribe to principles like the unregulated free market and the trickle down effect, even as these economic theories are proven wrong time and again, and businesses and individuals in the real world suffer. We are not in this place we now find ourselves because liberals are uncaring and doctrinaire; we're here because they haven't done enough to translate their empathy into action, or their sound economic science into policy. And Brooks' cynical dismissal of science is the same old tactic that many conservatives, faced with a mountain of evidence against their own theories, are using to stall real progress on environmental issues as well as economic ones.

Despite his smoke and mirrors, I, for one, am not fooled by Brooks' hocus-pocus.

-Richie Jay (with some help from dad)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Leaving Home


Several days ago I left my wife. Joanne was not only unperturbed, she actuallly sent me away with a kiss, a smile and a wholehearted request that I enjoy myself.

This story began when I received a call from my friend, Fred. He asked if I would go away with him. I am married almost 34 years and this was a decision that for many men would come with untold consequences. For some there would be screaming. For many there might be tears. Some would not even mention it though their heart and soul might want it. But not me.

So last Friday morning, very early, with bags packed, I headed out the door to the waiting taxi. Over the days after Fred had reached out for me, the number who would embark on this adventure had grown to 4.

It is now not quite 6 AM on this our third day together. I can hear Steve's quiet snore several feet away. Fred and Marv still sleep soundly in their bedrooms.

Soon, all those in this house will awaken, and we will shortly begin the activity for which we are here. I think our tee off time is 9:30.


I have to start drinking, heavily. I figure I have spent thousands of dollars over the years on alcohol I didn't even sip and never even ordered.

Being on vacation with the guys, part of the ritual is to dine in the evening. Due to a bad stomach, not some religious fervor or recovery program, liquor and I do not see eye to eye. Actually, from my vague recollections of my youth, the only consistent thing that alcohol brought me closer to was the toilet bowl. So, while others order wines, vodkas, scotches or whatever it is that grownups actually imbibe, my options are water or diet soda.

I have a reputation for being "cautious" with my money. Some would call me cheap. Let me just say that I am aware that it cost me $45 for a $9 salad and a glass of water last night.

This is not to place any blame at the feet of my fellow travelers. I choose my path through this world. It is just that I am a counter. I can tell you how many strokes each person in my group takes on every hole. I can tell you distances from this point to that, and how long it takes to go from here to there. Numbers circle around my brain, and monetary figures seem to get stuck there.

Joanne often tells me what bad company I make for adults as I not only don't drink alcohol, but I also can't stomach coffee or tea.

While others sit and enjoy their drinks during dinner and after, I don't. I like to eat on the run. My son often complains that he is forced to eat faster as I draw him into my patterns. Dining and relaxing are foreign concepts to me.

So given the confluence of my eating and drinking habits, my keen awareness of the costs that are being incurred and my natural affinity for keeping my money in my pocket, I sit and suffer. Being me is not as easy as you think.


After the psychological beating I endured today, I needed a respite. One bad swing followed in swift succession by many others can test the mettle of even the most patient. And I am not a person of outer, or inner, calm on the course. My shortness off the tee is mirrored by my shortness with my self and others within striking distance. It was time to think happy thoughts.

Escaping from the jaws of the 18 holed monster, the four of us returned to the rest of the world and of our day. There was still light left, and this interesting peak lay within shouting distance of where we were staying. Fred suggested we check it out and I definitely needed to burn off some frustration. And so we found ourselves hiking.

As we began our slow trek, people passed us by. Some carried walking sticks, some ran. Everyone was in better shape, and better able to climb. But it mattered not. I just felt released from the shackles of my disappointment and enjoyed the moment. Humor became my companion again. Fred and I bantered with one another and with those unfortunate enough not to ignore us. I stopped one young woman carrying an infant in a pouch, and asked "how old". When she replied "2 months", I responded, "No, not the baby, how old are you". Some of Fred's comments were even stupider. For all those who we encountered on our journey, it was definitely buyer beware.

We fumbled with the phones on our cameras, one more inept than the other. The mysteries of how to take a picture, much less how to store or send, were way beyond our grasp. But we persevered and managed to at least shoot some images that I am sure are unimagninably bad.

As daylight faded, we made our retreat back to our starting place. At our journey's end I realized that I had climbed much higher than the distance I had traveled.

Blowing Smoke

Was Bob Greene's op ed ("Smoke Got in Their Eyes") an indictment of us in the days of Sinatra or now? Arguably, a half century ago we were unsure of the cause and effect of inhaling tobacco into one's lungs. That debate has long since ended.

So we applaud ourselves for mandating ever more graphic and gruesome statements of the dangers associated with this addictive product. Not only are you doing harm to yourself, those around you can and do suffer the consequences of your decision. We prohibit its sale to minors. Don't smoke inside, don't do this and don't do that. But while we criticize and ostracize, limit and condemn, tell you that you should not, we never even dare to consider the words "you cannot".

When those whose function is to serve and protect know so much, how can they really do so little? It is one thing to fail to act out of uncertainty, naivete or even stupidity. That is not what holds the tongues of those who legislate. It is now only the power of money of the enormously powerful tobacco industry that controls. The images to be projected on these cigarette packs tell us much more than just the story of the sick and dying.

While smoke may have been in our eyes, and blurred our vision at the time Mr Sinatra sang his tune, that is not the case today. And, on many levels, what we now clearly see should make us ill.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


It is the smugness that is so hard to accept. He sits there, seemingly carefree, suggesting that we have been the ones who were wrong all along. This man is really ground zero for so many of the calamities that weigh on us so heavily. Yet here he comes almost dancing into our living rooms, not asking or seeking forgiveness. Ready or not, W is back.

From Matt to Oprah and everywhere in between, we will once again be face to face with the man who redefined the Peter principle. How were we unable to stop him somewhere along his journey to destruction, to tell him that enough was enough, and he should be more than satisfied with having done badly as president of a baseball team, or being governor of the Longhorn state?

Now he asks that we join him once more, so we can decide, based on his words, whether what we witnessed over 8 years didn't really happen the way it really happened.

Riding on the wave of recent mid-term successes, where the problems that he laid in the lap of his successor, now somehow become problems created by his successor, W. strides forth. We can almost see the cowboy hat tipped upward and the 6 shooter being unholstered. For this man who left under cover of darkness, ignored or reviled, it is a new day.

Is there a benefit in studying the mind of one who could create wrongs that did not exist but then demanded righting, who could propel economic policies to the edge of the precipice, who could diminish the value of human freedoms and then be so comfortable in where he has taken us? Can we learn from someone who can justify so much based on so little? For me, reading "Decision Points" would be, in a word, pointless.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Suspended Disbelief

"Good evening, America. This is Keith Olbermann. For all of you who may be wondering, I am not Walter Cronkite. Mr. Cronkite died July 17, 2009."

Mr. Olbermann is now required to stand in the corner of the room with a dunce cap on, being reprimanded by the principal for practicing what he preaches.

With the advent of cable television, we have been inundated and suffocated with subjectivity. We have long since left behind the world of separation of personal and on-air opinions . While Mr. Olbermann is the loudest, and sometimes most bombastic voice of liberal views and causes on MSNBC, he is but one among many, on stations up and down the "dial", who attack relentlessly.

Journalistic integrity is no longer equal to emotional, or financial, distance from those about whom you "report". What we now watch every day and night is a forum for comment pieces barely masquerading as news.

We know all too well the abuses of the system by those on the right. Fox News has eradicated the lines between the world outside, and the universe within the confines of their studios. Many of those who project themselves as candidates for the Republican party nomination for president in 2012, now are paid handsomely by this network to "act" as commentators.

While once and future kings and queens get unfettered access into our homes to solidify their positions and their base, MSNBC places Mr. Olbermann on the disabled list for having the audacity to give relatively minor monetary support to three candidates, two of whom only he and a few other select people in the world even knew about.

This is a world where the Supreme Court has decried that major political contributions can be made without a face attached to them. While billionaires can go about their business of reshaping our political landscape without fear of reprisal for failure to disclose that they are pulling the strings, Mr. Olbermann's actions are denounced and punished.

If MSNBC, or Comcast, in talks to take over this station, wants Mr. Olbermann to morph into Mr. Cronkite, give him fair warning and let him choose his destiny. For now, apologize profusely and put him back on the air immediately. And put the dunce cap on your head.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Mario Cuomo's dictum "We campaign in poetry, and we govern in prose" was never more in evidence than the past 2 years. Through the campaign leading to the 2008 election, we listened to the soaring rhetoric and were convinced that these words had meaning . For us, and for our beleaguered President, we now have learned the hard lessons of confusing that fantasy with the reality that awaited.

He believed he had a mandate. He believed the power given could translate policy into practice. He believed he had the wherewithal to pass health care reform, that had been waiting a century for the right time and the right man, and still have enough left in the tank to beat back the recession. He believed he would be able to undo the damage that President Bush had done abroad. He believed in energy conservation. He believed in rational immigration policies. He believed in human rights. He believed and we believed with him.

To pass health care reform, he spent too much time and too much effort, and had too little to show. He had no political strength left to deal effectively with energy matters. He could not stimulate us to provide the necessary monies to revitalize our economy. He was handed such a monumental mess abroad that he could make little headway. Immigration concerns and human rights became mere fodder for Tea Party conversations.

It was not for lack of will that this had come to pass. It was not for lack of passion that this had come to pass. It was not for lack of effort that this had come to pass. It was for lack of understanding that on that January morning in 2009, everything he said to that point was no more.

Mr. Kristof would ask Mr. Obama for an occasional verse of poetry ("Mr. Obama, It's Time for Some Poetry"). With John Boehner and Eric Cantor, with Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, with the wolves howling at the door, there is no more time for great and wonderful dreams. There is no more time to believe that the power of the President's words and his visions will convince those who oppose him to step aside.

"Yes, we can", is no more. From today on, we must have a new motto. One carved out of sweat and tears, not hope and fantasy. We must be grown up now, and ready to face our foes head on. Yes, those who stand in the way are our "enemies" not "opponents". That has been made abundantly clear from the first day of this presidency . For Mr. Obama, and for those who continue to believe in him, we should now, finally, be ready to put the poetry aside.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Weather Report (a/k/a The Political Climate)

2 years ago I was so comfortable.

Though it was late fall, all of nature seemed in harmony, every color was brighter, every breath was purer.

While the sun is shining this morning, the cold is piercing. The leaves are withering and dying. There is a starkness that was not there yesterday.

On my way to work, I will enter the room, confirm my identity, push the buttons and disappear into the rest of my day. I will walk out with my disappointment and my disillusion. They will not protect me against the elements.

Winter will soon be upon us. I will dress as warmly as I can, try to shelter myself from its effects. No matter how much I would wish the harshness away, it will remain until it's time has passed. I must accept that and move on.

For every person like me, there is another who today feels renewed and validated, who sees beauty where I now see nothing. All I understand is that the seasons do eventually come and go. Everything beyond that is unclear.