The shuttle deposited Roger Dimple at a ski rental housed in a Quonset hut. The burlap scent of the place and the no nonsense assembly line process for so many being fitted for boots and sized for skis reminded him of Zero Week at boot camp. He looked down at his swollen belly now three months pregnant with Baby Modelo. After Christmas, he’d made a firm resolution to give up beer and to get fit by having fun like a child at play. Yes, that would be the easiest way.
With over an hour to kill before conquering the hill, Roger’s growling belly and uncovered nose hounded him through the holiday crowd and around the corner for one last caloric hurrah. Over the river and through the woods, huffing and puffing out of breath up a wooden ramp to a large log cabin, a bakery that goes by the name of Kneadfull Things.
Subtly following the lead of all those around him, he propped his skis in the far corner of a long porch and clomped awkwardly through an entrance into heaven. He ordered two doughy walnut and raisin sticky buns that were fresh from the oven and a cup of coffee that tasted cheap and burnt like Sanka though it wasn’t cheap. His heart was merry and philosophical. Sitting next to a stone fireplace with real logs, he pondered how the cabin heats itself with itself, with its own bones. Snow dripped from every boot, puddling into tiny pools beneath every toasty warm and colorful customer. He remembered his little niece Sasha, how she cried unconsolably when Frosty was locked in the Green House by the evil magician and quickly melted away into nothingness, no more belly whopping. That was years ago. Gosh, how old was she now–twenty something? –but a child’s tears are never forgotten.
The unique voice of Neil Young entered like a breeze from within and without the walls, vocals and guitar as clear and pure as if the singer and his band Crazy Horse were performing Sugar Mountain live in the same room. This is one of Roger’s personal favorites, a coming-of-age tune reminiscent of his own. He’s always loved the metallic strum of a capable pick and talented fingers as they squeak up and down the fretboard, the changing of chords on taut nylon and steel strings, hypnotic, musical magic.
Through the pie lattice window, Roger watched as a snow cannon powdered the side of the mountain like a donut. He sipped his coffee and searched for his iPhone. Having found it safe inside of a zipped and dry pocket, he retrieved a Groupon that was purchased for him as a Christmas gift: a discounted two-hour ski lesson for first timers.
Lifeguards typically wear red. Ski instructors, at least the ones employed at Keystone, wear blue. Surprisingly, the Bunny Trail is located at the top of the mountain and is divided by a merciful tunnel that shelters skiers from the wind and guards a conveyor belt known as the Magic Carpet. The second half of the beginner slope is a bit steeper and a few degrees colder the faster one goes. This relatively harmless section of the resort is reserved for children and adults with little or no skill like Roger and is nothing before it becomes everything. Just around the lower bend and beyond an orange mesh fence, graduates disappear down what is labeled as a green trail. Roger learned from his instructor, Guy Fox (a bear of a man with a long white beard who can ski backwards with ease) that after the green comes the blue and after the blue comes the black. So, the Bunny slope must be yellow? Ski trails are represented by the colors of a physical bruise as it moves through the healing process.
Black is opposite of Bunny, Guy joked, and is only for the talented brave or the fearless drunk. On the Black Diamond, one must be careful of hidden rocks and visible mini bottles, not bears or wildcats.
In two profitable hours, Roger Dimple learned his skiing ABC’s–the pie wedge, the J turn, the S pattern–but his biggest challenge came at every tunnel entrance to the Magic Carpet. Having made his way down the Bunny for the first time, legs bent and trembling like a newborn colt, he was proud and relieved that he hadn’t fallen. Standing tall as a tree and towering over a line of rubbery children, many who were leashed like puppies to their instructor mothers, he watched as four or five in front of him disappeared without incident into the tunnel and were carried easily to the top of the hill.
Almost his turn. Easy peasy, he thought. After the little boy wearing the one-piece prison stripe snow suit. Cute.
Posture confident and erect, poles at his side, the tips of his skis touched the magic carpet, lurching and pulling them forward. His body rebelled and fell backward. He landed with an adult-sized thud that sounded more like a boom and echoed the entire length of the tunnel. For a long moment, the belt was still moving. Roger flopped like a fish out of water. He tried to stand but was prevented by the inescapable weighty pull of gravity, a lack of core strength, the paralyzing tangle of his heavy skis and wayward poles. There was a buzzing sound, loud and ugly, a safety feature that seemed to tattle upon and mock the fallen. The magic carpet braked to a stop, gradual for some, abrupt for others, and Roger noticed how it didn’t cause anyone else to fall. Laughter burst from somewhere in the line of people behind him, a single solitary snort. The belt operator, Ethiopian skinny and a foot shorter, gripped him beneath the armpits. On three, okay?
One, two, three.
Both men grunted. Both men were breathing heavy after Roger’s legs danced uselessly for a few seconds as if he were being strangled from behind.
Okay, sir, let’s try that again. Try not to resist.
One, two, three.
Somehow Roger was back on his feet, his face and ears reddening, but not from the cold weather. Wobbly and uncoordinated, he gripped both poles and stabbed them into the unmoving planks of the employee walkway when the belt began to move again. Straining every stabilizer muscle in his body, he rode wary and rigid to the top, a virgin carpet surfer, shaking and trembling this way and that before tripping face down, stiff as the Tin Man into the snow at the high end of the tunnel. Embarrassed and disgusted, he didn’t wait for help but immediately removed his equipment and struggled once more to his feet. Guy in his blue jacket handled the exit with a slow professional ease and a rush of encouragement. That’s okay, Roger. I should’ve prepared you, he said.
Back down the hill again, surprisingly smooth and without a fall. Back to the line of leashed children and watching mothers. Back at the humiliating entrance. Face-to-face with the loud and hollow tunnel. The taunting come hither of the conveyor.
Don’t stand so straight and tall this time. Lean forward, Guy said, poles ahead of you.
Roger fell forward on the second attempt. Boom! The ugly buzzer stopped the belt again. Guy said nothing. A nervous cough, dry and hacking, came from someone in the long line.
Roger stood with help of a female this time. A ski had come loose, and he lost a pole. Both were handed back to him before the belt jerked forward again. Roger hated the magic carpet. He hated himself. He was a turd moved by peristalsis through the colon and shitted out again. With a skip and a clumsy trip. He scrambled out of the way and reattached the single ski. A heavy barrel trashcan supported him.
Down, down, down once more with in an almost perfect S pattern and with a quick and efficient J turn, coming to a complete stop next to a woman with a Russian accent. She regarded Roger with a kind smile. You’re getting better, she said. Don’t worry about the carpet. I struggle, too, she said. This is the thing that happens, you know, when we get old, older? We are not like the children, she said.
Guy appeared out of nowhere. A superhero who always shows up late. You’ve got this, he said, and touched his pole to Roger’s, a skier’s high five or something.
Roger Dimple stepped onto the belt for a third time. A hush came over the crowd. Everyone watched in silence.
This time he didn’t fall but vanished inside of the tunnel. Thatta boy, Guy whispered behind him.
Halfway up the hill, the skinny young man who had first helped him to his feet had just finished his break and was walking alongside of the belt to resume his scheduled post downhill. Cheering Roger’s success, he said, Alright, man! and patted him gently on the shoulder. And the simple gesture was more than enough.
Down he went again. With a heavy thud. The sonic boom. The buzzer. The brake.
Good news for Roger, though, is that he learned how to stand on his own two skis. He learned how to fall and to get back up again. Sometimes a man needs help getting back on his feet.
And someone was down there waiting for him, at the bottom of it all.
With Guy Fox’s blessing and a business card for future lessons, Roger graduated adult pre-school and sailed as a first grader down the green slope, all the way down to shore, in and among the other graduates, all those precious people, faces with no names, big and small, old and young. Roger’s hair blew wild and free in the wind. A silly grin was frozen on his chapped face. The late afternoon sun failed to bring any warmth but sprinkled the trail with brilliant diamonds.
It took more than a moment for Roger to remove his ski boots. His butt cheeks felt as if they’d been beaten with a hammer. Still, he needed to sit. His legs were wet noodles.
In the absence of any benches directly across from the locker guarding his shoes, he supported his spine against the wall and slid slowly to the floor, farting uncontrollably all the way down until, at last, the loud crackling sound was effectively squashed and muffled into the cold tiles. A beautiful woman, the one who had purchased the Groupon, spun around and stared at him in amused disbelief. She was a Black Diamond skier. Hot as hell in ski pants, too. The mini bottle might have been hers.
Earlier they agreed to meet at the Pavillion, but fate via the nearest woman’s restroom had led her to that very spot at that very moment. Two piercing eyes smiled at him from behind an icy can of Coors Light.
Roger Dimple shrugged, returning her smile, far less humiliated by gas from his ass than the repeatedly toppling over inside of the intestinal tunnel at the top of the mountain. BOOM!
Without saying a word, she offered him a strong right hand. He took it, so warm inside of his, and he stood once more to his feet.