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Commentary & Opinion

I'd rather be skiing

 The Valentine's Day decorations at the Gardners.
Ralph Gardner Jr.
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The Valentine's Day decorations at the Gardners.

I wasn’t supposed to be sitting here writing this commentary. I was supposed to be skiing in Vermont and doing some male bonding. But a balky back changed my plans without asking me first. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the chiropractic or perhaps the surgical arts caught up with me. I should have known there was only so long my body would let me get away with working in bed.

I’m not sure when that bad habit started. But since I’m not one readily to admit mistakes I’ll blame it on the Wall Street Journal. It wasn’t because I’d read some story about stretching and decided to take the opposite approach – even Wall Street’s hometown newspaper runs those kinds of stories these days astride the financial news – but because I went to work for the broadsheet in 2010.

Foolishly agreeing to write five columns a week I quickly realized there was no way I could pull off the stunt by actually showing up for work. The only viable solution was to wake up; score some coffee and orange juice; return to bed (closing the door behind me to block out the drama of domestic life) and pound out a column. That left the rest of the day for eating, exercise and cocktail hour. Did I mention reporting? There was some of that, too.

The advantage of working in bed is that it doesn’t feel like work. The pressure to produce is minimized. You can dupe yourself and your body into believing that the stakes are lower. You’re also far more productive, at least I was. I’d previous show up at the office and spend half the day socializing. Working from bed kept distractions to a minimum.

However, it happens that turning one’s bed into one’s office is ergonomic suicide. Or so I gathered by the grimace on the face of a surgeon last week when I described my work regimen. I was consulting him about a different body part. His back of the envelope diagnosis before he recommended a physical medicine doctor is that I’d probably require therapy to strengthen my core -- whatever one’s core is and wherever it’s located -- rather than an operation.

The problem started as occasional pain in the lower back that’s since become chronic. Bending over is still easy. Returning to an upright position is the hard part, even with the benefit of analgesics. As somebody pointed out – perhaps it was me – the location of the pain makes sense because I’m right handed and probably favor that side of my body while two-finger typing.

Turning down the invitation to go skiing in Vermont for a few days was almost as painful as my lower back. For starters we were staying rent free at a friend’s condo. Another reason is that it’s been a couple of years, if not longer, since I went downhill skiing. As much as I appreciate the beauty, convenience and health benefits of cross-country it frankly can’t compare with the euphoria of carving turns down a mountain, especially if there’s a little fresh powder available.

But the main reason I’m bereft is because, as I said, I was looking forward to doing some male bonding. It’s been too long, due to the pandemic and other exigencies. Besides, my wife was looking forward to removing me from her visual field. I couldn’t agree more. I’m of the steadfast belief that nothing is healthier for a marriage than the occasional separation and I think she would concur that we’ve spent too much time together since Covid became a household word.

My ski vacation fell on Valentine’s, or rather Galantine’s, Day since she had a couple of girlfriends coming over for dinner. My daughter also happened to be up from the city that night. I felt guilty crashing their party, especially since the male friends I was supposed to be joining were probably, at that very moment, sitting in some northern Vermont bar or restaurant, drinking and dining on burgers while engaging in the boisterous, low IQ banter, that distinguishes male bonding.

I might have been able to pull off skiing. On the other hand, if my back decided to punish me for my hubris, the only thing worse than exacerbating the condition and being relegated to the lodge or condo to watch daytime TV or doom scroll the Ukraine crisis while everybody else was out having a blast would be returning home in a body bag.

The ladies couldn’t have been more charming, accommodating or non-judgmental. Dinner was excellent and my daughter’s decorations – chains of newspaper hearts slung from the dining room ceiling – highly festive. However, the evening’s main allure is that I woke up the following morning.

I look forward to visiting the slopes next year. I’m assuming that downhill skiing is much like bike riding. Muscle memory, as well as diligent physical therapy, will allow me to return triumphantly to the intermediate runs. I’m also guessing that male bonding is a skill that can be reacquired, no matter how rusty you’ve gotten.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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