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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blinks from Jersey, Progress in Vermont

If you have read these articles in Blind Confidential and haven’t, by now, figured out that my life has taken me to many places and I have had the good fortune of meeting many people in many walks of life.  Perhaps, my greatest blessing comes from the excellent family and amazing set of friends I have enjoyed the company of over many years.  

Although I don’t include much of this on my resume because it’s all just too weird for a prospective employer looking at a vision expert with a long history in software engineering, my journey through life has brought me nearly everywhere (I’ve never visited Antarctica but was invited there once, I’ve never been to sub-Saharan Africa but do hope to go on a listening/ audio recording safari some day) but you can pretty will pick any other spot on your globe and you can bet I’ve either been there or have been very close.

I’ve been the lead singer of a hardcore punk rock band, I’ve worked in a car wash, I’ve hitchhiked across the USA a couple of times (when I could see), I’ve been involved in performance art, blues acts,  worked for project GNU and co-founded the League for Programming Freedom, have my name on software patents, worked on Wall Street, been an active member of the 2400 club, a hacker, a drug addict, involved in radical politics and many protests, have been arrested more times than anyone needs to know about, lived on the wild party scene in NYC from 1977 to 1983 and have pretty well have had the fun of doing nearly everything I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.

Thus, seeing the name of an old friend in the newspaper doesn’t surprise me.  My friends have written books, recorded many albums, appeared in movies, done time in jail, shown up as business spokespeople on CNN and in the Journal, invented all sorts of things, show up on science shows talking about everything from robotics to rocket ships, have an art opening or, in the saddest cases they die from living the decadent life we all enjoyed.

Most of the friends who have a public presence, however, entered my life in 1977 or later.  Thus, seeing the name of a friend of the family mentioned prominently in an article passed on by Blind News actually took me by surprise.  I’m not quite sure; he’s been involved in the blindness biz for as long as I can remember and every blink I’ve met from Vermont knows him so why be surprised that someone who knew me before I was born should appear in the papers?

Mike Richman, secretary and treasurer of The Vermont Council of the Blind, also served as my father’s best man back in 1958, a couple of years before I entered this strange life.  Mike’s wife Carol served as my godmother at my baptism and Mike would likely have held the godfather role had it not been for one of those archaic Catholic rules that don’t permit Jews to be godfathers.  Someone should please remind me to write to the pope about this and see if they can change the rules.

Thus, my memories of Mike stray rather distantly from his public persona.  He, like me lost his vision to RP and, way back when I was a child, Mike became the first person to teach me to shoot a gun.  My family visited their home in Vermont, he set up some things to use as targets and we spent the afternoon shooting up his backyard.

According to Vermont’s, Burlington Free Press, Mike is quoted as saying, “The Capitol Theatre in Montpelier is the first Vermont movie theater to install equipment that allows blind and visually impaired audience members to hear a pre-recorded audio track describing nonverbal action on screen. The service reduced distractions for other audience members and allows blind individuals to watch movies independently,” at the celebration of Vermont’s first DVS enabled public movie theater.

I don’t think Florida has a DVS theater in the state yet but, then again, we are the land evolution forgot.

Mike Richman continues to work on a variety of different blindness issues in Vermont.  He teaches a course at one of the colleges in Burlington about some left-wing political topic, and, if memory serves me correctly, he hosts a television program on Burlington community television.

Mike’s public persona seems so squeaky clean that I sometimes have difficulty reconciling this revered member of Vermont’s blindness community with the Mike Richman I know – a fast talking wisecracking irreverent Jersey guy, just like me.

One time, not that long ago, Mike and I sat on the porch at our family summer home on Lake George, NY.  He and I traded wisecracks, insults and harsh commentary about government and the state of the world.  Others sat on the porch but couldn’t find a place to fit a word between our high speed live satire.  Finally, I could hear my friend Danielle say to my wife, “Oh god, there are two of them…”

People from New Jersey have the wisecrack, the insult and an intense disregard for authority built into our DNA.  Jerseyites answer our doors by yelling, “go away.”  Jersey people, even if we can’t really stand the place ourselves, will defend it endlessly, even though we left the state years earlier and haven’t visited it in recent memory.  We’ll play Springsteen and Sinatra, Twisted Sister and Bon Jovi even if we don’t like their music.  We jersey folks will also tell you exactly where you can stick your confederate flag or other regional icon.  We’re even proud that the longest burning fire in known history was right next to our Pulaski Skyway on the way into Jersey City and, yes, we’re proud of those odors that only exist in Jersey and our beautiful chemical sunsets.

Thus, a guy like Mike had to leave Jersey for his own sanity but, like me and most others who think that all forms of speech that the f-word can be used for should be as, as George Carlin said, it’s the most flexible word in our language.  People in Jersey even include the f-word in our names.  If like Mike, you are of my father’s generation, the f-word is your first name like, F**king Frank Sinatra or F**king Tony Bennet.  If, however, you grew up in my generation, the f-word is typically your middle name as in: Bruce F**king Springsteen and Twisted F**king Sister.  If you happen to fall into the pantheon of truly great Jerseyites, you get the f-word as both your first and middle name as in, F**king Clarence, F**king Clemmens (the saxophone and possibly the most beloved member of the E-Street band).

So, to you Vermonters who thought of Mike as a kindly, aging gentleman who smells of piss and mothballs like so many other retired folks, I’ve come along and outed him.  Next time you see him, just try to engage him in a conversation about the current administration or some other topic that will bring out the Jersey in him.

All of the personal stuff aside, though, Mike Richman has fought for greater access to the blinks in Vermont for over forty years.  Mike has contributed to many of the advances and legislation in the Green Mountain State that make it one of the more desirable places for people with vision impairments to live.  Just remember, he has a human side too and one that has one of the most high speed, rapid fire, razor sharp tongues that Jersey has ever produced.

Afterward

This morning, I was informed of a death in the AT family.  Dean Jackson, a technical support technician at Humanware, passed away in the last week.  Few details about the nature of his death have been made public but he was only 26 years old.  I didn’t know Dean at all so can’t speak to him in life but I’m sure a lot of BC readers probably did know him and may want to contact Humanware or Jonathon or someone who can provide instructions for sharing your condolences.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Jake Joehl said...

Wow! It sure sounds like you get around! I only wish there was a Mike Richman of Illinois. Actually there sort of was I think, but it was a woman and she retired from the Bureau of Blind Services several years ago and is now an instructor with The Hadley School for the Blind. You guessed it, she teaches assistive technology. I never had her as an instructor despite being a Hadley student myself for a few years. I do know her though, and also knew her when she was with BBS. Speaking of BBS and this whole blindness thing, Illinois was ranked number 49 last I checked, with regard to state services for those of us with disabilities. Yes hang onto your seats folks, 'cause we Illinoisans just might end up being number 50 soon, if we're not there yet. I wonder where these ranking stats can be gotten anyway. I always hear people talk about them, but I never can seem to remember to ask where these people get this information. I don't think it is made up, because believe me I have been paying attention, and these services are just not improving in the least bit for some of these states. I cannot believe it! This is like as bad as it gets! I might post more on this later, as I have to go pack up. I'm headed to my folks' for Easter. I will post from there provided the computer that has JAWS on it is working OK. But for now, I'll just say that something desperately needs to be done here in the Land of Lincoln! If any of you out there in BC land have any great ideas on the crisis that is looking more and more like Illinois, please, please pass them my way and I'll see what I can or cannot do. Thank you.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Sam Joehl said...

There are at least 10 DVS theaters in Florida. this page lists the movies playing at the ones owned by AMC.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Will Pearson said...

I read somewhere recently that the NJ tourist board are using Bon Jovi's "Who says you can't go home?" as the soundtrack to one of their TV commercials. Maybe they're trying to attract you Jersey natives back? Is the emigration that bad?

1:52 PM  

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