I watched as the newswoman on skis stood next to the young guy on a snowboard. I couldn’t help but admire her courage and skill in standing on a slippery slope with a cordless microphone instead of poles. I was eagerly watching, hoping that she’d loose all control and composure and let gravity take the reins, pulling her helplessly down the mountain as the news camera followed her and her mic would be capture every audible grunt and profanity. Her shiny future on YouTube would be locked in for eternity. Alas, she just stood there as she impressively interviewed the hunky guy on a board, his feet stuck in a permanent straddle stand. This is the preferred stance of all tough studs, as if to say “I need to stand with my legs far apart like this in order to accommodate my gigantic balls of steel and my larger-than-yours penis. Grrrr”
The news clip reminded me of the last time I went skiing. And when I say “the last time I went skiing” I should include the word “ever” and then you’ll understand where I am on this issue.
As a 24-year old single mother, I was cautiously and artificially enthusiastic about a day trip to the snow with some friends. There was to be a large group of us going which made it worse, as I’d surely be accumulating more witnesses to my snow retardation. Therefore, in order to prepare them for the encounter I forewarned them about my ski disability. I was assured, just as I always was, that I’d be fine and they would ski with me, help me on some slopes and we’d all have a good ole’ time. As my admissions were made, I was quickly demoting my carpool status from the “cool” group to the group with the old guy and the Jesus freak in a truck. It was too late to back out, so I traveled with the D-list to the snow.
It was a lengthy trip made longer by uncomfortable boredom. I was still a committed smoker; I couldn’t even make it through a movie without taking a cigarette break. Therefore, a four hour car ride listening to Christian rock was a suffering far greater than gum flap surgery without Novocain. The Jesus freak was sitting in the back seat of the little truck, her shiny manic face kept poking through the middle of the two front seats where I sat next to the old guy. He was probably 55 and that’s not old now, but it was ancient when I was 23. The Jesus freak had a whole box of music that she needed us to listen to. Her kinky permed hair with frosted tips shimmered from greasy hair products kept creeping into my peripheral vision. I’d see the perky ball of kink bouncing to the soft beat of songs like “You’re so Awesome, Jesus” and “Rock my Soul for Sinners” or something.
With each song, she’d say “Listen to this one! Doesn’t it put the joy of Jesus in your heart?” But all I wanted was the burn of nicotine in my lungs. I didn't want to hear the "message." I could have told the old guy that I needed to throw-up and he would have pulled over, then I could have yelled “Ha ha ha! Fooled you! I’m going to smoke a whole cigarette!” But I just sat there and let the needles of discomfort jab into my brain and lungs. Anxieties building until my shoulders were up to my ears with tension and I was hosting a permanent kegel party in my pants.
Once we arrived at the ski run, I was only comforted by my cigarette for a minute and then I remembered my next daunting task: Skiing. The old guy and the Jesus freak pulled out their equipment and put on their ski gear. I headed off to the rental desk where they provided me with a pair of navy blue boots that someone had sewn rocks into the ankle support. They were too small, but I was too humiliated to complain. Then they gave me a long thin pair of boards and some sticks to hold onto. I couldn’t afford to rent pants, so I wore my tight Bongo jeans and a short jacket so you could see my cute ass.
Once I dragged it all outside and managed to get my boots locked in my skis, I realized I had already been dumped. All my friends were off on the Black Diamond runs, completely forgetting the promises made to me. I eyed the T-bar run. A special lift for beginners and children. You see, there’s this cable that runs up the small slope with a giant aluminum upside-down “T”. Once the lift operator summons you, you have to quickly scurry yourself over to where he is, then the giant upside-down “T” gently pushes your bottom up the hill as you hold on to the center pole with one hand and your sticks with the other.
As with everything in life where I feel insecure, I overcompensate with body language. You know, like looking bored or sporty. Trying to avoid eye contact. Humming. All in a pathetic attempt to fool you into believing that I’m really an expert at this kind of thing. A T-bar expert. Once summoned by the operator I tried to skate over to the operator, but my feet just slid back and forth. I wasn’t going anywhere so I tried to use my sticks to propel me but that just made my legs stop moving. Finally, after what seemed like five minutes I found some kind of friction and started to move.
The “T” bar operator was gorgeous, of course. I could tell that working at this kiddie lift meant he was being punished for something. So I wasn’t exactly appealing to him which made me even more uncomfortable. I put my sticks in one hand, bent my knees, and turned around to grab the bar as it came up behind me. Unfortunately, my skis were pointed off to the side so once the bar pushed my butt, I jetted off to the right and crashed to the ground while the T-bar swung past my head.
The operator pressed a button that was probably labeled “Stop-O-Lame” that halted the entire lift so that everyone on the slope had to look back to see what the problem was and find me being lifted up by the arm pits and hoisted into a standing position. I laughed out loud, probably too loud, because it’s better to laugh at yourself and hear anyone else doing it.
I finally got the hang of the T-Bar after 4 or 5 times and felt pretty confident on the bunny slope. Yes, I was really getting it now. But not enough to graduate to anything bigger. The day wore on slowly and my ankle blisters grew to golfballs inside my rent-a-boots. I had fallen on every trip down the slope and my jeans were thoroughly drenched and frozen. I decided to thaw out in the café with some hot chocolate and hopefully meet up with my friends.
Taking off the skis made me feel so light and free, like anti-gravity shoes, until I tried to walk on the deck. Then I felt like Herman Munster with rickets. I was the anti-ski bunny and I hated them and their thousand dollar outfits and ski goggle tan lines. I just wanted to push the “disappear” button so a hole would open up in the floor and I could fall out of sight.
I found one of my friends and asked her when we’d be leaving. She said we would all meet for a late lunch over at the other café and then head home. Thank God, I heard the word “home” and that’s where I wanted to be. I would just do a few more runs, maybe try something a little bigger, and then go to the other café where I’d be delivered to the homeland.
It was almost time to meet everyone and I had gained a little more confidence on the skis, so I decided to take a “real” lift up to a slightly larger run which should let out right by the café where we’re meeting.
I was standing in a long line waiting for the lift. Since I didn’t have a partner, the operator paired me with another single and he was out of a ski magazine I tell you. So handsome and friendly, and luckily I managed to get onto the lift without falling this time, so my cover was not blown. On the way up the mountain, I found out he worked there as a ski instructor. That figures, he was too perfect to work the T-bar lift. I was so enchanted that I didn’t even notice how long I’d been riding up, until I saw the sun setting at the exact spot where our lift stopped … the top of the mountain!
I dropped the snow bunny act immediately and looked at him with sheer panic. “What lift am I on?” I found that I had inadvertently gotten on a intermediate run that started at the top of the mountain. “Oh my God! I can’t go down this run! I have rental equipment on!” He gave me a patronizing ski instructor smile and said “You’ll be just fine, just take it slow.” Christ, what a pathetic instructor. Was that really the best advice he had? The mountain was huge, steep, and there were moguls. Hundreds of skiers zipped back and forth with dynamic power. I was sure to be sliced in half by at least one of them.
So I panicked. “Listen, I’m a single mom. I can’t break anything … at all!” I’ve never skied down anything this big. I don’t know how to go over a mogul, and I’m going to die!” His token patience expired and he didn’t have time for my pedestrian anxieties. I started problem solving and negotiating. “What about the snowmobiles for the medical staff? Can’t they come and get me?” I pleaded, starting to cry. “No, they don’t go up this high.” He snubbed. Oh great, I’m so far up the mountain that the ski patrol can’t even help me. “Please, can’t I just ride the lift back down? I really cannot make this run!” I cried. “Whatever.” He mumbled, then he fished his walkie-talkie out of his parka and radioed a code or something inaudible to a man on the other end. “All right, when you get to the top you’ll have to get off and remove your skis, then you can ride back down.” Oh thank God. “Will you ride with me?”
I was ushered off the halted lift and asked to remove my [rental] skis. By now, Joe Ski Instructor was as far away from me as possible. I was put back on the lift headed in the opposite direction. My great feeling of relief almost made me cry, that is until I started passing by all the real skiers, then all the gratitude was squeezed out of my feelings tube and I was left with mind-numbing embarrassment. It’s like when someone is pulled over by a police officer and everybody passing by has no qualms about blatantly staring. They ask themselves “what kind of a criminal is that?” or “I’m glad I’m not riding with her.” But they don’t pretend to not stare because, fuck it, you’ll never see them again.
I couldn’t make eye contact with any of them because my shame was too bloody and raw. I just stared straight ahead, sitting in my wet Bongo jeans, my navy blue rental boots, and my skis across my lap. Kids have no mouth filter. Whatever they’re thinking or feeling, it just pops right out like a Pez dispenser. “Hey lady! You’re going the wrong way!” and then there was the laughing. The downward trip took eight times longer than the upward trip, let me tell you. Half way down, I had flipped off a couple of kids.
When I finally started to approach the landing zone, I was horrified to see the swarm of skiers in the lift line. They looked like ants on a plate of syrup. The closer I got, little pink faces began to turn up in my direction. Soon, everyone was watching me come down on the lift. I was a sight to behold. I was compelled to develop a plan to protect what smidget of self-esteem I had left. My master plan included a profound limp and a look of pain on my face. I would limp off the bench, past all the real skiers, and disappear into oblivion. Once the lift stopped at the foot of the mountain, I offloaded and began my injured skier act past the crowd of people. I was almost believable as I’d look at some of them and give a shrug as if to say “Well, that’s what happens when you land a jump wrong.”
It was time to meet my friends at the lodge, but that was at the other end of the resort. I was supposed to ski there, but now I had to continue my performance of the injured skier with a limp just in case someone from the ant pile recognized me. I didn’t want anyone pointing and yelling at me “Hey, you’re not an injured skier! You’re just a big fake chicken!”
I got trudged down to the road with my skis, and my sticks, and my 25 pound rental boots and limped down the icy road and through the rootbeer slushy parking lots until I finally came to the lodge. I bought a cup of coffee and sat by myself outside and smoked my wet cigarettes. Nobody was there for 30 minutes. I finally had to go inside to warm up. It was then that one of the D-listers showed up. “Sharon! Where have you been? Everybody’s already left. We’ve been waiting down in the parking lot for you for hours!”
I limped to the truck, both physically and emotionally. I volunteered to sit in the back so I could seethe in private. Licking my broken pride wound and feeling sorry for myself for entire four hours. I listened to the Jesus freak and the old guy rejoice in the splendors of skiing while I rubbed my ankles and soaked his seat with my wet Bongos.
Well, at least I didn't have a shitty perm.