If I had been cryogenically frozen in the mid-1980s and thawed just this past week, not only would I have missed the Spice Girls phenomenon, but I might have been amazed to discover that we humans hadn't yet killed each other off, along with most other life forms, via our stockpiles of intercontinental ballistic missiles and their cargo of nuclear warheads. However, I might have concluded, upon picking up a newspaper (a broadsheet so much thinner and narrower than I recall!), that The Soviet Union is alive and well: they still invent cockamamie reasons for invading a neighbor, such as to conduct a "peacekeeping mission"; facts are impossible to come by since the media are controlled by the state; and no one can leave the country.
Yes, I know, people can leave, but no one will take them in these days, except Belarus, and who wants to go there? That's the price you pay for raining shells onto your closest neighbor and creating the worst refugee crisis in Europe in 80 years. I visited a Berlin museum in the early 1980s and saw the lengths to which East Germans had gone to sneak out. They were installing secret panels in cars to hide human cargo and flying hot air balloons over the Berlin Wall while we Central New Yorkers were able to drive north and answer a few questions to get into Canada. This wasn't so long ago; lots of East Europeans alive today recall how much fun it was to live under Soviet rule, with the Kremlin calling the shots. Which is to say, no fun at all.
So, is it any wonder that Ukranian moms are taking up arms against invading Russian soldiers? The choices are either awful or much worse: fight and go through the hell of war; or submit and have a puppet beholden to Moscow installed as your new master. When war is clearly the better option, you know things are bad.
I fear dark days ahead, but my admiration for Ukraine – a country I knew precious little about until recently – is enormous. The resistance has inspired the western world to band together against Vlad, inflicting pain on his economy and people, and frankly a lot of other people as well. Putin is calling this "an economic war" against him. Call it whatever you want, but don't expect the civilized world to ignore your brutal treatment of a peaceful country.
I have a fantasy that a rogue Russian Minister will sprinkle some of that soviet-era poison dust into a bowl of Putin's borscht so that he turns green and even German doctors can't save him. But given that he puts 20 feet between himself and his closest allies and probably employs a battery of food tasters, that would be a little difficult to achieve without him noticing.
Now that the 2022 Winter Olympics are stumbling and lurching into their final days and closing ceremonies, where the Chinese leadership will bask in the glow of their excellent human rights record, it's time that I revealed a little-known fact about myself, which is not going to surprise you at all: about eight years ago I was invited to join an ice dancing team.
Yeah, I know, I look like an ice dancer. Or maybe someone who could have been an ice dancer eight years ago. OK, maybe 38 years ago, but in any event sometime in the past. The foot skills, the body movements, the ability to do pull-throughs and drapes as needed to excel in the sport were evident in my mannerisms. Not my mannerisms while skating, but just while walking on dry land. In other words, people could see the potential I had to gain those skills, if they stretched their minds to very limits of credulity.
When I was invited to join the ice dance team, I was in a learn to skate program. In other words, I couldn't skate. My "long form" birth certificate said I was in my late 40s, but I was much younger than that in terms of my self-image. I was a young, lean, sleek skating machine, not a has-been with a bad back, Dadbod, and salt-and-pepper hair. And the team saw that in me!
Well, as you can imagine, there were a lot of demands on my time, and I simply couldn't fit ice dancing into my routine. So, alas, no joining the team and no wowing my co-dancers with skyrocketing skills development. And no Beijing Olympics.
This is a long way of saying that I won't be carrying the US flag on Sunday when the games come to their conclusion. But as you might have guessed, in my mind I will be.
I'm thinking of rounding up the boys and reviving the old rock band thing one last time before it's too late. We could reprise our versions of Cheap Trick's "Surrender" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" – our terrible versions of those songs – which we had played at the New York State Fair, circa 1978, in a "talent show" judged by a man named Allen A. Allen. To be honest, I don't know if the judge's name was spelled Allan A. Allan, or Allen A. Allen, or whatever. The only thing I know for sure is that not a lot of talent was on stage that day.
At the time our group was named "The Krash," a misspelling that we hoped would lend us a tiny bit of rock cred, enabling us stand out in the crowded world of teenage garage bands. By eliminating letters or swapping out one for another that is phonetically similar, we were following in the footstep of our heroes "The Beatles" and "Led Zeppelin." ("Def Leppard," which had formed a year earlier, wasn't particularly influential in our naming decision.)
Other bands went farther with "alternative lettering" by borrowing an umlaut or two from Germanic languages and placing them helter-skelter over whichever letter they thought looked cool, as Mötley Crüe did in the early 80s. "Spin̈al Tap" did those bands one better by putting the umlaut over the N. How cool would it have been if we had put the umlaut over the R, so we would become The Kr̈ash?! Alas, we didn't have a good enough sense for humor for that. (Double alas: the umlauts over the n and r are barely noticeable! The creators of the text editor that I'm using in this blog apparently didn't foresee the need to give bloggers the option of sticking umlauts over random consonants.)
Soon, we jettisoned the name The Krash as well as my friend Pete's younger brother Tommy, our singer, for a guy we met in high school a few months later. Then we added a guitarist, then Pete's older brother Rob, and finally settled on five of us with the name "Eclipse," which included my old buddy Johnny G., who occasionally made use of a beach towel on his fret hand to assuage the sting of callouses.
We were pretty bad, me in particular. I was an expert at hitting the drum skins hard and often, but keeping a steady beat was a challenge. "You're speeding up!" was a common refrain from Pete. Didn't sound that way to me. Everyone else was slowing down. It never really mattered that we were not particularly good. Kids showed up at our shows anyway because we were loud and had flash pods that blinded them for several seconds at a time. We got paid for this, and now and again I was asked to sign autographs and had girls I didn't know calling me on the family phone.
Now that my drums are set up in the basement again, I'm working on keeping a steady beat in case the lads want to pull out the old leather jackets and start screaming into microphones again. Gotta admit, it would be a nice change of pace.
Bostonians claim to be incredibly hardy when it comes to winter weather, but the truth is that the massive blizzard we were treated to this past weekend was a rare event in these parts. Yes, we get nor'easters ever few years, and this was a classic one, with wet air from the south merging with cold air in the north to create the huge counterclockwise swirl of wind and snow that dumped two feet on us. But for coastal Massachusetts, winter weather tends toward the drizzly more than the snowy, and the cold more than the frigid, without the lake effect barrage of squalls that harass Syracuse, NY every year, nor the negative temperature values that you see in Little Canada, MN.
I'm OK with snowstorms because I like to ski afterward, but the irony of this and many other winter nor'easters is that precious little snow falls in the mountains where chairlifts tend to be located. Instead, it falls on our driveways and sidewalks, where it needs to be removed, causing a great deal of strain on the backs, necks, arms, and legs of me and my fellow Beantown citizens. Some people choose to leave the freshly fallen snow right there on the walk, hoping that the sun will melt it away, but that scheme can backfire when the snow melts just a little, then freezes overnight. Now the two feet of innocent, fluffy snow is transformed into evil patches of ice. The only people who benefit from that are personal injury lawyers.
My family did our snow removal via shovel, both the push variety, which acts like a plow, and the bent-handled sort, where you pick up large masses of snow and toss it onto your neighbor's driveway. Shoveling is better for the environment than a snowblower since no fossil fuels are burned in the process, but after a few hours my back screams for mercy and I'm tempted to go to the Home Depot to see what's left. I admit that we did get assistance from a neighbor with a screaming two-stroke gas-burner, who creating a narrow alley on the sidewalk for dogs to leave yellow stains in the pristine snow and letter carriers to deliver much needed fast-food flyers.
I was appreciative, of course, and handed over my small can of gasoline for when he ran out of fuel, as well a couple of quarts of homebrew from my keg fridge for when it was time to head back inside and put his feet up. The pandemic is still present and we don't do a lot of entertaining these days, so someone has to help me drink the beer.