PATRICK MCVAY

WRITER

My Musings

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Grassy

Picture of a chairlift at Sugarloaf Mountain with very little snow It's All Natural

My youth is pocked and peppered with tiny bits of memories of something called "grass skiing." Sometimes I wonder if grass skiing was really a thing at all, or if it was just a dream I once had, or maybe something I saw online. Except it was the 1970s and there was no "online." It might have been an ad in a newspaper, in the sports section or maybe metro, a small rectangle in the corner on the page otherwise devoted to department store bras. In my memory, there's a person in shorts and a t-shirt, holding ski poles and smiling on a mountain bluff, wearing bright green ski boots.

At the time, I was a young skier, willing to believe that I could extend the joys of winter by skiing in the summer. But this didn't look quite like the skiing I was used to, where your boots are strapped onto boards that slide along slippery, cold stuff. The grass skiing I imagined from the ad I saw was more like strapping skateboards to your feet and rolling in the weeds helmet-free, a recreational sport seemingly designed to wreck knees and cause heads to make contact with large rocks.

I didn't ever ski on grass. I just remember that you could do it at a mountain I frequented in winter, called Labrador.

A recent trip to Sugarbush mountain in Vermont reminded me of grass skiing because although I was there to ski, many of the slopes were covered in carpets of grass rather than snow. The northeast has never had as reliable snow as the Rockies, even when I was skiing in the 1970s, but snow guns help to fill in where mother nature hasn't. You can ski on this fake snow, though it's not quite the same as skiing on the packed powder that forms after white stuff falls from clouds. But one thing you can't do is make snow when the temps are in the 50s. I'll be honest: warm weather in wintertime depresses me, indicating that climatologists haven't been kidding, and that my favorite recreational activity may not survive in these parts past the mid-21st century.

There is still time for this winter to be rescued. Mother Nature could brew up a storm any day, dumping a foot or two of snow on the hills so that the February break isn't a bust. Two big storms is really all we need this year. But in the future, grass skiing may be our best bet. 

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Ghosts of Christmas Past

When I was a kid, I felt ripped off at Christmastime because I didn't get to wake up on December 25th and tear open presents like all my Catholic school friends were doing. Instead, my family was on the road, spending the holiday in Quebec at my grandparents' house.

I loved my grandparents – they were enormously kind people – but limited space in our Country Squire station wagon and evil Canadian border guards who seemed ready to confiscate our belongings meant that only a few small gifts could be brought with us, to be opened by the relatives.

Bear with me, it gets worse.

While my friends had gone to bed early on Christmas Eve without a complaint, knowing that the sooner they fell asleep the sooner Christmas morning would arrive, my early bedtime had no such rainbow on the other side. Instead, I was cruelly roused out of my slumber at 11:30 and made to march with my sisters in the frigid cold to tiny St. Patrick's church, where I tried to stay awake for Father Boudreau's scintillating celebration of midnight mass.

The reward – an all-night "Reveillon" back at my grandparents – with ham sandwiches, sugar pie, and adults drinking and cackling until daylight while we kids played with the Victrola and watched TV – was no substitute for the excitement that my friends experienced of waking up to piles and piles of presents brought by Santa on a sleigh.

I received little sympathy for this unfathomable injustice: several times I was reminded that not only was I not denied gifts, but actually got to open them early, since we always departed for Canada a few days before Christmas and opened our gifts before we left home. Still, all the great stuff I had received – like the electric football table that vibrated to move the plastic statuettes of players across the field – was out of reach hundreds of miles away due to crazy rules that border guards apply to wreck Christmas for kids like I used to be.

My mom, a wise woman who realized the opportunities that these annual pilgrimages presented, soon implemented a new tradition: when it was time to leave for Canada and we were all piled into the car with no handheld devices to stare at – she would declare that she needed to pee, then disappeared for 10 minutes. This awfully long bio-break was simply a ruse to fill our stockings with gifts, such that when we returned from our grandparents' place, we'd discover that Santa hadn't forgotten us after all.

OK, so maybe my childhood wasn't quite so awful. As Christmas night 2022 turns into the day after Christmas, it occurs to me that what we had back then – grandma and grandpa, plenty of good food, and the part where they shake you awake on a cold night to attend a mass that I despised –was magical in its own special way. 

  605 Hits

Bait And Switch

Beck-at-MGM-Fenway-Music-Hall


I would venture to guess (without checking the interweb) that Ticketmaster was established something like 30 years ago. In my not fully informed mind, this was the start of online ticket sales, and I'm sure I was immediately irritated by the fees. Prior to online sales, if you wanted to see the Rolling Stones in Atlanta, you'd have to do what Hache Verde did when he famously tried to awaken our favorite acerbic high school principle at 2 in the morning to head to the Civic Center in Atlanta, GA to buy tickets for a show at Fox Theater.

Fast Forward to early October, 2022. I've obtained tickets for a strange double-bill: 1) Beck; and 2) a Montreal-based band called Arcade Fire. I bought the tickets to see Beck, figuring that, at worst, Arcade Fire would be harmless. Stranger still, I learn that Beck would be first to take the stage.

Shortly after buying these tickets and forking over exhorbitant fees, I encounter a friend – a Canadian friend, truth be told – whose daughter was playing soccer with my daughter, and I ask if he has ever heard of Arcade Fire. His reaction, at first, is to look at me for signs of a punch line. Then, he turns almost angry. "They're one of my favorite artists," he says, incredulous. That's the way Canadians are when you dis their favorite rock bands.

I had never heard of them.

Anyway, it seems I'm going to see this band, but only after the great American (nutty Scientologist, but who cares) Beck does an acoustic set.

So about a month before the show, I get an email from Ticketmaster, my favorite agency that has a monopoly on ticket sales, informing me that Beck will apparently not be playing at the Beck concert. Instead, a Haitian band I'd never heard of would be replacing Beck at the Beck show. Which, it seems, is not the Beck show, but is the Arcade Fire show. But I'm not to worry: "Your tickets are still good!" What a relief!

As you might imagine, I immediately seek to rectify the situation by telling Ticketmaster that I don't care that my tickets are still good. I don't want them anymore. To which Ticketmaster replies that "we are just the ticket vendor. The promotor is not offering refunds at this time." I then have my battery of lawyers reach out to MGM Fenway, the alleged promotor, to threaten the legal action if I do not get a refund. (In fact, I reach out to the Office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts to loudly complain about the bait-and-switch.) The acerbic high school principal, who is to accompany me, is about as interested in seeing Arcade Fire as I am. In other words, he isn't interested at all. I had already challenged him to find a single good song by Arcade Fire, something I could hang my hat on back when the worst of the situation was that we'd see Beck first and then would have to sit through Montreal-infused rock fare. Now a good song was needed just so that the night wouldn't be a total bust.

Meanwhile, I offer up our tickets for sale. Mind you, I had already bought tickets for $56.50, which came with a whopping $25.75 in fees (nearly half the ticket price). Now, by reselling through Ticketmaster, I would incur new fees. Additionally, people buying our tickets would also pay fees. (Yes, it did occur to me during this process that I have had a lifelong career in the wrong industry.) However, I was willing to take a modest loss, so I sought to price my resale tickets below other offers already listed. Alas, the evil promoter, which by now was quaking in its boots, disallowed the reselling of tickets at a price below face value. The best I could do was match what Ticketmaster was selling tickets for. And since there were still plenty of tickets left, only a sell-out would cause someone to buy my tickets.

A week before the concert, my acerbic friend and I were resigned to enduring this show. No doubt, we'd have fun, despite our lack of interest in the music and MGM Fenway's efforts to stymie us on reselling the tickets. Maybe we'd enjoy a drink, and there was still an outside chance that the music would be tolerable. This was something that we joked about relentlessly, as we were pretty sure that the music was not going to be our cup of tea.

When Arcade Fire finally came on and played their first song, Age of Anxiety I, my acerbic friend to turn to me and yelled, "This band is lame!"  But from that point on, the band ripped through the rest of their set, playing an entertaining array of Québécois-infused pop music and ending the show with a superb rendition of the Pixies "Debaser."

The next morning, my wife, who had heard of my Ticketmaster and MGM Fenway complaints many more times than she cared to, asked me how the show was. "Strangely enough," I had to admit, "It was really good."

Never saw the Haitian band. 

  616 Hits

Who Lost My Bird?

Cockatiel-circa-1989

Every now and again, I like to examine some of the nuggets of memory I have of the last century, such as the days when I lived in a rooming house (okay, an apartment) in Brighton, MA with a bunch of other newly minted college grads. Every month, we'd have to scrape together rent money, and if we didn't pay on time our landlords would come to our apartment with thugs to beat us mercilessly. 

My apartment mates were some of the genuine good guys of the 1980s. There was Guillermo, who came from New York City and had played baseball at Brandeis. There was Ted, who convinced his parents to let him attend the University of Hawaii. (The University of Hawaii! Why hadn't I thought of that?) Ted rode a Harley and famously left it with a custom paint shop, which held onto the bike from January (off season) well into the summer (peak season). It wasn't easy to anger Ted, and this was about as close as I had ever seen to him being genuinely ticked off.

Then there was Huatsu.

As far as I can intermingle confirmable facts with my memory of the 1980s, Huatsu came to us when Brian, one of the original four tenants, got engaged and moved out. I don't remember much about Brian except that he wore slippers in the apartment and slid along the floor when moving from room to room, which I found mildly irritating. Brian's departure caused Guillermo to vacate the smallest room in the apartment and move into the largest, leaving the smallest room to our new apartment-mate, Huatsu.

I have all kinds of fond memories of that pre-cellphone and pre-GPS era, when the back seats of cars contained spiral-bound regional maps showing every street in metro Boston, which were indispensable for getting you to a keg party in an unfamiliar neighborhood. One memory I have was of a keg party that we threw in our Murdock Street digs. Huatsu, from Taiwan, had quickly and seamlessly integrated himself into our group and was far more popular among my college friends than I was. While we Americans went out and got potato chips and Doritos for our tipsy guests, Huatsu drove into Chinatown in his cranky little deathtrap of car and returned with things like crunchy bits of dried octopus, and preserved duck eggs. Whut? The duck eggs – dark, translucent, gelatinous – were like something from another universe, odder than sushi, which to my mind was off limits. (A writer for the then-Boston Phoenix said to me one day, "Pat, we Irish may not be the smartest people in the world, but we know enough to cook our fucking fish.") Odder still, when I finally mustered up the courage to take a bite of one of the preserved duck eggs, it tasted not unlike your average hard-boiled hen egg.

But I may be wrong about this, as it turns out that my memory of that era isn't perfect.

In 1991 I had near-death experience when a window blew out of an apartment in Allston during the run-up to Hurricane Bob's arrival and struck my calf, nearly shearing my lower leg clear off the rest of me and creating a harrowing, bloody mess on the street. I had already decided not to sign another lease for the Murdock Street apartment so that my girlfriend and I could backpack around Europe, and now that trip was canceled and we were homeless. A friend told a colleague about our plight and this woman kindly offered us an apartment to use while I recuperated. These facts are indisputable. However, I recall very clearly that when friends kindly gathered to move us from Murdock Street, Huatsu was among the helpers. And, further, that he had brought one of the last of my possessions down to his car to transport to the new apartment – my cockatiel, whose name I cannot remember. Little did Huatsu know that the top of the birdcage had been removed so that the bird could fly around the apartment and poop wherever he pleased. My lasting memory is of the cockatiel discovering the sky above, and flying straight up into the sunlit afternoon, where no doubt he was destined to become a snack for a local raptor.

Huatsu recently contacted me, decades after we had parted ways, and when we dug into our past it turns out that he probably didn't help with that move. He had spoken to his wife and confirmed that he had moved out of the Murdock Street apartment by 1989, two years before Hurricane Bob. For him to have helped would have required someone to contact him. Remember, this was pre-cellphone, and mostly pre-email. He had left our apartment when his wife and son joined him from Taiwan, at which point he disappeared into another world, as we all tend to do. If I know my friends from that era, no one would have had his contact information.

Huatsu doesn't remember helping and doesn't remember the bird flying up and away with a piercing whistle of excitement. My friend Dave, known at the time as "Chowder," doesn't remember Huatsu being there either. It seems that some other friend had brought down the cockatiel – maybe Ted, or someone else entirely.

No doubt I have forgotten much more about that era than I remember, but it's dismaying to have had such a clear memory for so long about something that turns out to be inaccurate. What other inaccurate memories do I possess? How do I figure into other people's inaccurate memories? Maybe people from high school recall me as a tremendous student-athlete who could dead-lift huge weights. Despite the facts, I may never shake from my memory the sight of my forlorn-looking friend Huatsu staring up into the afternoon sky, watching as my pet bird whistles excitedly before disappearing over the trees, never to be seen again. 

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Daily Haiku

 

Cats oft’ void their guts.

They cough out fur balls. They puke.  

We tread carefully.  

 

College Tuition

We dig ourselves a deep hole

Need a second job.

 

Now that I’m sixty

People think I’m a wise man

Probably, I’m not

 

I’m in my Fifties

But tomorrow I’m Sixty

Will need a sports car

 

My PCP Says

“Keep doin’ what yer doin’”

Prob’ly I should not

 

It’s St. Patrick’s Day

We eat beef that has been corned

Whatever that means

 

Robots and A.I.

I will make use of these soon

To do my taxes

 

Strange Oscar night end

Pacino failed to mention

Best pic nominees

 

Who’s this Katie Britt?

Scary. Wierd. We could have used

A Trigger Warning

 

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