Ski Your Fears Away

Every year I ski solo on Easter weekend. Rain, shine, snow or ice, I’m out there; traversing some twisted mogul run, usually one I have no business being on. It’s usually very quiet, there are no lift lines, and the snow stays groomed well into the evening. On beautiful days, especially this past weekend, the mountains are my haven for a spiritual reawakening. Perched high above evergreens dripping with snow the lift sweeps me into the heavens. A few years ago, a man on the chair ahead of me played Amazing Grace on his harmonica. Blissful, tranquil, and admittedly a powerful moment.

Some will argue that skiing is too much hassle, too much money to be worth it. Usually, they’re right on both counts but not today – not on a 45 degree day at 4000 feet. As I was leaving for the Adirondacks, I got a call from some of my closest tv friends. They had flown up from Atlanta the day before and insisted that I ski the Catskills instead. Oh no – not Hunter Mountain, I thought to myself.

There’s a legend that the Catskills were actually made by the Devil; that he was flying around with a big bag of rocks on his back when the bag ripped open and the rocks fell to form the Catskills. The Devil, it is said, was often seen in these parts. In fact, as I approached Hunter Mountain that day, driving south along Route 214, the face of the Devil was visible in the stone cliff. Not a good omen for an Easter weekend!

The owner and founder, Orville Slutzky, is 88 yrs. young and a wonderful friend. He treats the media like family – extending free tickets and meals with no guarantee of return coverage. I worked on a tv special here a few years ago and the Hunter crew were especially accommodating. Orville insists that I park my NYP car in a specially designated area and who am I to deny better parking with 30 pounds of ski equipment? Even at 88, Orville is still the Pope of the place or so I thought. 10 minutes later my licence plate is recorded and a stern police towing warning is broadcasted over the PA. I rush out in time to sweet-talk an officer who doesn’t so much believe nor care that I know the Pope.

My friends finally show up an hour late. It’s understandable considering their extended Irish family is made up of 6 brothers and sisters, 10 sons and daughters, a couple dozen nieces, nephews, cousins, oh, and 1 dog. I know I’m probably missing a few more. Not all came that day but enough to divide the lot into 3 vehicles.

The near-perfect conditions had my confidence swelling and I stupidly ignored “You Must Be An Expert” sign and dared the double diamond runs. “If my friends can do it so can I!” was the deciding mantra.

“The Catskill Devil himself must have carved these things out”, I cursed, as I began the rough descend. Moguls the size of tsuanami tidewaves came tearing at my left, collapsing at my right, tossing and turning me over like a beach pebble. Something inside me was burning – could it be my legs were on fire? Removing my skis would prove risky but worse than that, humiliating. Who did I think I was trying to emulate my friends expert skiing techniques? My foolish pride will be the end of me today. I begged the Devil for mercy. Reciting every prayer I knew – the bottom was drawing closer. My friends waited patiently and praised my efforts when I finally made it in. Whew, they didn’t see the panic and pain I was experiencing! The only lines I could utter in return were “Well, I was definitely out of my comfort zone there…but, let’s do another!”

Fear has no place in short-term memory, especially mine, and following that run I did another and another – terrifying, exhilarating, mortifying, and humbling. I even managed to forget to get off the lift and dumped out a little late, smashing my head on a pillar and taking out a couple cones. My right ski came off and a pole went flying but to my dismay the lift kept circling above me, nearly decapitating me as I struggled for position. Could the lift operator be the Devil in disguise? Black and blue and bruised all over, I called it a day. My friends rewarded me later with a homecooked family dinner. Thank you to all, but please, lets make it the Adirondacks next time!

Rock'in at the VFW

My schoolmarm friend invited me to watch a friend’s band in Green Island last night. Two elementary school teachers, one by the name of Ben and the other Bill play in a band called “Benny and the Frets”. Last night’s gig took place at the local VFW. “VFW…”, I thought…”Well, sure, why not, I’ll try anything once”. Deb was decked to the nines, at she usually is, and I stayed my usual casual self. Pulling up to the joint, the sign out front confused us with the name of somebody else’s band. “Could we be at the wrong VFW?”. Several doors to the building were locked and the place seemed a little too quiet, even for an older crowd. Finally, the fourth door past a glowing neon “Budweiser” sign showed us the way. 2 priceless little gray-haired women, probably widows of soldiers who fought in Korea, greeted us as we entered. Before coughing up the hefty $2 door charge, Deb asked about “Benny and Frets”. “Betty and the who?” “Betty what?” “Was that Betty you say?” replied perplexed widow #1. Deb peered around the corner and caught sight of one of her coworkers. Benny or Ben as I was introduced to him, straighted out the matter, admitting his band goes by several names. Oh no, I thought, confusing the little ladies who collect your pay is not a good thing. Having come this far Deb and I deserved a drink. “I feel funny using a plastic cup for your White Zinfadel Miss” admitted the bartender. “It’s coming from a cardboard box so no complaints here” I grinned. Ben introduced us to a motley of personalities; Bev, a short and stocky butch electrician sporting a tie-dye shirt, being the most vocal. Van Morrison and Billy Joel covers played while a fierce trumpet player drowned out a questionable flute but respectable sax musician. A defunct birthday party in the backroom shared their jello shots and test tube lemoncello with all. Deb and I were feeling no pain by 9pm. The wood paneled bathroom, decked out with kitchy wall hangings and the smell of musty cigarettes, redeamed itself with flawless mirror lighting. Wow, do I look good for being 33 (again) I thought, peering into the mirror mirror on the wall. It was either that or Deb and I really did need to slow down on our consumption. Around 10pm, White Zin Bartender abandoned his post and asked me to dance. The stolen birthday party chips and salsa had me sobering up some but who am I too turn down a lonely VFW member? He too now has something to write about! When the chips and salsa disappeared we too decided our exit stragedy. Saying goodbye to our new friends we vowed to return to Green Island VFW for more drunk’en tomfoolery — maybe later rather than sooner though…

Kodo, Japanese Drumming

A week ago I watched a strangely complex and perverse movie called The Tin Drum. It’s about a boy named Oskar who rejects the “stupid” adult world and it’s hypocrises. At age 3, he stops growing and learns to assert some control over adults through beating on a tin drum and his vocal talents.

Tonight I decided to carry that drumming theme out a little longer. I got tickets to the world-renowned Japanese taiko drum troupe at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady. An evening of pulse-pounding percussion unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. The concert wasn’t merely something I watched or listened to. It was a cacophony of sounds that I felt — literally.
The vibrations of the drums shook my seat and pierced my mind. Kodo is the name of the troupe which stands for “heartbeat” and/or “children of the drum”.

Though I only stayed for one set, I was truly impressed with the performance. It felt great to be away from listening to my roommates watch reality shows on Thursday nights. Will there ever be an end to these annoying programs?

As written in the Times Union today…”Kodo has been rattling the roofs of theaters around the world with their big world beat for nearly a quarter-century. Formed on Sado Island off the coast of Japan in 1981, the troupe’s initial intention was to establish a school for traditional folk arts, including weaving, carpentry, pottery and woodworking. Originally, the drumming performances were intended as a way to raise funds for the school; soon, the drums took precedence.”

Before the show I talked with an author of a book about Kodo. The book describes how Kodo performers live on a small island and commune together. They eat, sleep, and play together. They cook, clean and gather food together. They practice for years and years together before they even take stage. The author went on to describe the types of fishing boats they use to net fish and oysters. An absolutely fascinating life style that I’d love to do a documentary on someday…if it hasn’t been done already.

The FIXX

Last night, Deb and I met at Troy’s Revolution Hall to cheer on one of my favorite 1980’s British bands, The FIXX. As expected, Lead Singer Cy Curnin, gave a great live rendition of some of my old favorites; “Secret Separation”, “Saved By Zero” and “Stand or Fall”. I loved this band in the 1980’s! Their second album released in 1983, “Reach the Beach” had this super catchy single, “One Thing Leads to Another” and yes, they played it! Deb and I were in nostalgic heaven! Swaying, clapping and jumping around like teenage girls to crinkly gray-haired British Pop legends. Sadly, time has not been kind to my road-touring icons…but twenty years ago, Teen Beat posters of them, Bowie, and Berne lined my bedroom walls. Their “New Wave” sound, darker and moodier than most, became a staple in my collection and Deb and I talked about how fortunate we were to grow up during the Arms Race and MTV generation. For it was in the 80’s that conscience-evoking lyrics, like those written by The Fixx, shaped a listeners perception of the world. Today’s MTV rapsheet is a disgrace. After the show I took away a produced bootleg for a few bucks and a couple snapshots. Their photos are hanging by my bedside again.

Fly Far Away

In early Indian folklore, owls represent wisdom, helpfulness and are said to have powers of prophecy. If that’s true, my seeing at least 5 of these noctural birds, this week alone, could be a good omen. On the other hand, my sightings of these beautiful creatures occured while driving past large open fields recently mowed down for development. Trees, trees, and more trees, all carelessly leveled without concern for the animals and birds that once called these woods their home. It breaks my heart, I tell ya, and if a sad song happens to be playing on XM, well, that’s it, I’m weeping like a baby before I know it. One remaining owl seems not to want to leave, despite the development holocaust destroying all that was once her domain. She stays true to her roots – determined to stay, refusing to admit defeat. To add to my angst on this subject, my mindless neighbor castrated his big beautiful pine in our shared backyard. I couldn’t stop myself. “If I’d known you were going to cut down a tree, I would have chained myself to it!” I shouted on the phone. He laughed…”but it was so ugly Sony”. Ugly? Ugly? My mind can’t fathom the logic. With so many trees falling victum to development and a neighbor who deliberately cuts one down for aestetics, I’m thinking, like the owl, I too need to fly and find a new home!