Monthly Archives: February 2013

I Am Bored.

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I know it has been being a very long time since I am talking to you, but that is because there has not been being anything at all interesting to talk about.  There is no riding because there is being snow all over the place.  It is not being nice snow either.  It is old snow and it is hard, and not at all nice to roll on or to eat and play with a horse’s lips.  I am being all by myself in the paddock and there is not any other horse with me for fighting.  And the hard old snow is not being nice for running around on either.  So here I am, one horse that is waiting for spring.

I am also waiting for my rider to come visit.  She came today and I said It has been being a very long time since you are here to see me.

She said It has been one week.

And I said That is what I said, a very long time.

She said Huey, I didn’t think you liked it when I came to visit you in the winter.  All I can do is take you in the barn and brush you, and you told me that is a waste of time if we are not going to be riding.  And we cannot be riding now.  And you always fuss around because you think you are going to get zapped.

She was right.  I do always think I am going to get zapped, and there is nothing I hate more than getting ZAPPED.  And it is boring and stupid to go out of the paddock and into the barn and just get brushed off.  And also, my rider always complains that there is poop in my tail and says she is going to wash it.  And I always tell her I do not want to get my tail washed, so she has not done that but she complains about it all the time anyway.

But.  I do not think this is the point.  I am thinking that a horse should be getting more visits even if they are boring and stupid.

So I am saying to her That does not matter.  You should be visiting me more anyway.  I am bored.

She said How can you be bored, Huey?  You are out here with the weather and the hay and the other horses right there.

But I said The other horses do not scratch my butt.  The blanket is good because I do not like to be wet and cold, but it makes my butt itch.  The other horses are also not giving me carrots and apples.  Or Horse Muffins.  Do you have a Horse Muffin today?

She said No but I thought she might anyway, so I asked if I could look in her pocket.

This was being Very Good Horse of me, because usually I do not ask about things like that.  I am a big horse and I am not asking people about their pockets.  I am finding out about those pockets all on my own.  But I remembered that my rider is always telling me I am not being allowed to put my lips on her clothes, and I am not being allowed to chew on her at all, even if that is what I would be doing for another horse.

She said Good boy, Huey, for asking!  And she held up her pocket so I could sniff it, and it smelled like there had been apples, and carrots, and Horse Muffins, and bute, and a hoof pick in that pocket, but not for a very long time.

I was being one disappointed horse then, I am telling you!!!

But she was putting my halter on and saying it was time to go get dusted off and get my feet checked, and usually when that happens my blanket comes off and guess what?

I get a butt scratch.

I am a very smart horse, and I am being smart enough to show my rider just where to scratch.  I am doing this by shuffling my feet and butt over closer to her so she will be able to see.  Usually she is going right there where I am showing her, but sometimes she is poking me in the butt instead and saying MOVE OVER HUEY.

So I got scratched a bunch of times today, and I got brushed all over.  My rider says I have a beard.  She also says I have curly feathers on my feet.  That is silly.  Birds have feathers.  Horses have hair.

Just like I thought, though, it was pretty boring.  But then I got my jacket back on and you know what that means.  I means I might be getting a treat.

I am not usually just getting treats.  Usually I am having to work for treats.  I work for them by making my nose touch my butt.  I can do that on both sides.  Lots of horses cannot!! But I am a stretching horse.  That is because there might be treats back there by my butt, but also, it is feeling good.  So I had my jacket on, and I opened my nose very wide so I could smell everything that there might be to smell.  Like some carrots or Horse Muffins, maybe.  And guess what?

I could smell a Horse Muffin.  And it was not an old smell.  It was a new one!!!!

So then I am knowing that my rider has Horse Muffins, and because I am being a very smart horse I am knowing what to do!! I am putting my nose to my butt!!!!

And my rider is laughing and saying Huey, you have to wait for me to make the treat back there! You cannot just make it be there by putting your nose there.  Move over!

And I am thinking that she is right, usually she is back there with the treat when I make my nose touch my butt.  So I am moving over, and there is being a Horse Muffin!!!!!  I am eating that Horse Muffin and chewing it up and licking my lips!! And then I am thinking that maybe there will be another Horse Muffin on the other side, and I am putting my nose back there too!  And my rider is saying Wait for me, Huey! And then there is being another one!!!

A lot of times, there is even one more Horse Muffin hiding under my belly.  But this time, my rider took the rope and said Let’s go back to the paddock, Huey.  So I said OK, but I did not say anything else because I was still chewing that Horse Muffin.  They are very chewy!

And I went back in my paddock and remembered that there was still some hay, but before that, I could smell that fresh Horse Muffin smell again, and there was one right there in my paddock!  Well, it was in my rider’s hand, but my rider was in the paddock, so the Horse Muffin was in my paddock.  I ate that right up!!

Then you should have seen it.  My rider said Bye Bye Huey and went out.  Clay ran over and said Can I have one too?  But my rider said No, Clay, they are only for Huey.

And I said That’s right, Clay, they are only for me!!

And the Pumpkin ran over and said Huey, you should be giving us that thing.  We are mares and mares are more important than geldings.

So I said You are right, Pumpkin, mares are more important than geldings, but I am not sharing my Horse Muffins!!  They are only for me! My rider said so!!!

And then the mares and Clay yelled for a while, but I just chomped my Horse Muffin for a very long time and then when I was done, I licked my lips.  And I said Yum yum yum, these Horse Muffins are so good.  And Clay put his feet up in the air, and the mares said We will see about this Huey.  But I just went over and finished my breakfast.

So it was boring and stupid to just get brushed, but it was a lot of fun to show off my Horse Muffins.  Now I just need to do that for Elvis too.

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This is me, opening up my nose to try to smell some Horse Muffins or carrots!

Hey Na Na Na Hey…Life In A Northern Town…

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So my town got walloped by “Winter Storm Nemo” (damn the Weather Channel for stuff like “Nemo” anyway).  This happened, oh, 12 days ago.  We were up in Vermont at the time, and got 9 whole inches where we were staying.  My home mountain got a tidy 15 or so.  But my home Home got over 2 feet.  SMACK DOWN.  I uttered a lengthy stream of profanity when we arrived home and discovered that our four-car driveway (ours + the neighbors) was now exactly as wide as one family sedan, and flanked by a 4 foot tall parapet of snow and ice on either side.

Forget on-street parking.  Simply not allowed for several days, and beyond that, there just wasn’t any room.

New England towns have a richly deserved reputation for being “quaint” and “picturesque”.  This generally translates to “has roads that are very narrow and winding” and “on-street parking despite the narrowness of the roads”.  In Boston, it translates to “psychotic chaos on the streets”.  Only the true glutton for punishment – or the individual training for world-class formula 1 car racing – enjoys driving in Boston.  We may possibly add to that list “reckless and homicidal maniac”, on second thought.

My town, not in Boston and not near enough to attract significant numbers of Boston drivers, is not normally on the “lunatic” end of the spectrum. Which means that when the 2+ feet of snow converted the side-streets into one-way venues, and laid up nine-foot walls of snow between the now-two-lanes of the main streets, for the most part, everyone dealt with the situation with Patience and Fortitude (which, by the way, are the names of the lions at the New York City Public Library by Bryant Park).  I guess there are enough Formerly Known As Boston Drivers here to be comfortable with rank chaos on the roads.  We managed to sort ourselves out reasonably well, all things considered.  The street is now one-way, and there are people parked on it – I’d say “parked on the curb” but you couldn’t get within 3 feet of the curb in most places – and so you creep up and look for oncoming traffic, and crowdsource a decision about Whose Turn It Is To Go Now, and three or five cars go, and then that direction of traffic stops, and gives way to three or five cars coming the other direction.  And so forth.

It was…surprisingly…mellow.  There’s a special name for Massachusetts drivers, who have a richly deserved reputation for being aggressive, inattentive, and incompetent all at the same time.  That name is “Massholes.”  Despite a proliferation of bizarre bumper stickers advertising the fact “Masshole” is NOT a compliment.  I would have expected to see a lot more Massholery, given the circumstances.  Yet, incredibly, over the last two weeks I have encountered only one.  You, Masshole driving the white sport ute at high speeds down Hawley Street, who honked at me for being in the middle of the road, I’m talking about you, you jerk.  The speed limit on that street is 25 when the roads are clear and dry.  They put the speed bumps in because of Massholes like you, and why on earth you thought you should be the only person not inconvenienced by the state of the streets, I do not know.  Go back to Boston, you putz.

Anyway, other than the jerk in the white sport ute, people have been really cool.  And, in the meantime, the Department of Public Works has been pulling a 24/7 job pulling the snow off the streets.  When there is that much snow you can’t just plow it.  After a while, there’s no where to plow it to.  People have to clear the sidewalks, by law, so those of us who are blind, in wheelchairs, elderly, or have any other difficulties getting around can still do so.  That’s how you wind up with 4 foot parapets from a 2 foot snow.  Plows on one side, and snowblowers on the next.

And all that works, if you don’t mind living in a giant snow fort.  And if you’re not trying to drive or walk anywhere.  It’s amazing how much information you can collect out of the corner of your eye about things that are about to happen.  And how, when there are 4 foot barriers everywhere, how much information you can’t collect.  You can’t see cars that are trying to turn onto your street, for example.  And you can’t see pedestrians that are about to cross.  You can’t see the cars that are traveling down the freeway at speed when you’re trying to get on (if you’re merging in) and you can’t see cars that are coming down the entrance ramp (if you’re already on the freeway).

It certainly adds a special Thrill to getting about.

And it complicates parking.

And there’s the whole spontaneous conversion to one-way street grid thing.

So, when the snow gets deep enough on the ground, they don’t plow it, they haul it.  This has been going on, day and night, for the last 10 nights.

I know this, because my nighttime reveries have taken place to a constant soundtrack of beep-beep-beep groan-grind-clash-thump-scrape beep-beep-beep.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  The other night, the slightly important thoroughfare next to my house got some Snow Removal Pampering from the DPW at 2:45am, and it was so bloody loud it woke me out of a dead sleep and nearly gave me a heart attack.

I hope they give ear protection to these guys.  I didn’t see any, but I hope they’re using it.

The street I actually live on is 1 block wide and a dead end.  It’s not exactly High on the city’s list of Streets To Get Cleared.  I don’t know that we are the last street in the city to get cleared, but we’re certainly in the bottom 5 percent.  They got around to us today.  I came home from an appointment to find a collection of heavy machinery performing a peculiar ballet off my front porch.  I don’t even have words for most of this equipment.  Whatever it is, we don’t have it in Texas, where I come from.  The only piece that looked familiar with the endless series of dump trucks hauling big piles of water (in Texas, water doesn’t make “piles”.  Floods, yes.  Heaps, no) off to the local vacant lot, a multi-acre area that is now covered with a massive 30 foot layer of snow.

Without further ado, I bring you the ballet (with apologies for the framing, but I had to use the smartphone):

10×10, or What I Learned From Almost Crashing On A Plane

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One of the ripping great things about living where I do is the density of cultural opportunities within a relatively short drive. We went off last night to see the Barrington Stage Company’s 10×10 Play Festival with some friends.  We went to this event last year and loved it:  take ten new playwrights, ten plays that have never before been performed, each ten minutes long, and staff them with a rotating case of six actors and actresses (total), and put on a two-hour long festival.

Roy says he loves it because when he (inevitably) falls asleep, he only misses one of the plays and still gets the nine others.  I pointed out that last night, he missed five minutes of one play and five minutes of the next, which must have led to a moderately surreal experience of one of the plays (his subjective “one”…everyone else’s subjective “two” – and neither of them surreal at all).

I love it because you get such a delicious sampling of writing, plots, dialogue, and acting – and you get to see the same actor or actress playing multiple (and often very different) roles.  It’s like a Theatrical Buffet.  And I like it that none of them are more than ten minutes long, so if I hate one, I know it will be over soon.

As with the festival last year, this year’s offered a very wide range of technique and approach.  One play was a strange stream-of-consciousness production about producing stream-of-consciousness literature.  Another was a predictable and simple vignette of a lover’s spat and the ensuing makeup – made vastly interesting by the fact that all of the dialogue consisted of third-person conversational subtexts instead of actual conversation.  One was an homage to the devastation and loss that comes with living through a natural disaster.  And so on.  One was an oddly-constructed non-contemporaneous account of two different airplane crashes – or one crash and one narrowly-averted crash – joined not in time but in a common individual.  It was this one that took me most strongly…because I, myself, have been on planes that have nearly crashed three times.

The first time was in my youth, and the avian adventure involved a set of landing gear that would not descend.  At ten, or eleven, I was too young to fully appreciate the meaning of the plane circling for what felt like hours, and the aircraft personnel coming down the aisle to a few rows in front of me and lifting up the carpet and a panel on the floor of the plane to access the hold.

The second time was in Philly, on my way home from a job interview, when our plane encountered an unexpected flock of Canada geese at dusk during takeoff, and had various and sundry holes blown in the fuselage, the wing slats, and cracks in the windshield.  On that event, the plane bumped and thumped hard in the air right after lift-off – mercifully, this was before 9/11, or there would have been pandemonium in the cabin – and then wobbled and circled and circled and circled and circled.  I had a window seat forward of the wing and was in a position to notice that Philly was much, much larger than I ever thought…either that, or we weren’t actually leaving Philly. I used the wing as a visual benchmark for gaining altitude, and that’s when I realized the slat was down and had a hole in it.  I wondered if the pilots knew about this, and wondered how much trouble that was going to cause when it came time to land.  The ride was definitely a bit…rough, but the pilots hadn’t come on to discuss the strange bumping and jerking at takeoff, nor the apparent vastness of the City of Brotherly Love.   I briefly considered bringing it to the attention of the flight attendant that there seemed to be a whacking huge hole in part of the plane’s wing, but on further reflection, I decided that the simple act of communicating this information would be likely to result in a state of unrest to my fellow passengers.  So I kept it to myself.  Eventually, what felt like about 2 hours later, the pilot came on and acknowledged that the aircraft “was having mechanical difficulties” and that we’d be returning to the Philly airport “as soon as possible”.  And then he kept us in the air for another aeon, while I stared backward at the “mechanical difficulty” on the wing.  A corporate jackass seated in the row in front of me decided to verbally abuse the flight attendant over the delays, and sorely tried my resolution to keep my information private.  He was bitching about being late to Dallas, and I wasn’t sure we’d all still be alive in an hour.  I wondered why we didn’t go back to home base more quickly, but when we did get there and saw the fire trucks on the runway, I realized that whether the pilot knew about the hole in the wing or not, he certainly had some reason to anticipate difficulties on landing.  Fortunately, the landing itself was relatively uneventful – but the scene inside the airport once the other passengers saw what had happened to the plane (and the hole in the wing was only one of many obvious problems) my early suspicion that information would result in pandemonium was confirmed.  Several people had hysterics on the spot and had to be escorted away by medical personnel.

The third time was the charm, the one where I really got to see what happens right before a plane crashes.  It was highly informative…and in unexpected ways.  The author of the play last night, however, had clearly also had this experience, or knew someone who had, because he or she got it exactly right.  Even the unexpected bits.

I was on another flight into Boston’s Logan airport, and having mixed feelings both about Boston (the city) and Boston (the airport).  It was the commuting part of my life, which meant that Roy, my fiancee of the time, was awaiting me on the ground.  Or, because the Big Dig was not yet complete, was probably awaiting me in traffic caused by construction detours.  I hoped for something to change my opinion of Boston, since it was becoming clear at this point that I’d be relocating permanently to the area within the near future.

I certainly had my change of opinion, and how.

If you’ve ever flown into Boston, you know that the airport is located on a weird little manmade island of landfill sitting out in the Boston Harbor.  It’s surrounded on most sides by ocean.  It’s common enough to find your plane circling well out over open water, to the point where you can see the top of Cape Cod, before swinging back in to land on this terrifying little island.  That’s what we did that day, in the spring.  You’d think I would have the date I got a Wish You Were Here card from the Grim Reaper burned into my brain, but it’s not.  All I can remember is that it was spring, and Passover was around the corner, and the sun was out.  We swung way out over the ocean, and I looked down as I always do, and noticed that there was a surprisingly huge amount of chop on the harbor – whitecaps and spindrift everywhere I looked.  Boston is where it is because the Harbor is as big and protected as it is, and it’s not common to see a lot of whitewater out there, especially not on a sunny day.

Right about the time I thought “Hmm, that’s odd” the bottom of the world dropped out.  In brief, our flight hit clear-air turbulence caused by an invisible squall line that no one knew about at all until our plane was caught in it.  That’s such a short sentence that does nothing at all to convey what actually happened. What happened is that our flight couldn’t land, and it couldn’t leave, and it very nearly crashed, and it took its sweet time about all of that, and every single soul on that plane – including the pilot – thought in our deepest hearts that we were about to meet our maker(s), and that this experience lasted, subjectively, forever.  In real minutes, possible 30 of them, from the first dizzying jerk and vertiginous drop to the final minute of total silence.

Here is what I learned in that 30 minutes, or that lifetime, or that eternity.

First. Planes are built to withstand an incredible amount of tossing about in the air.  I knew that from more than a few hair-raising takeoffs on turboprops out of DFW with major thunderstorms in the area.  I also knew that from my grad school buddy, who had a pilot’s license, and who had given me the Insider’s Perspective when my plane was shot down by Canada geese.

Despite this, when the plane bangs around violently enough, things go to hell pretty quickly on the inside.  Over the course of eternity, or 30 minutes, several of the overhead compartments blew open and spewed the loose items all over the inside of the plane.  I remember rocketing around in the air psychotically, dipping and diving and climbing and coming this close to hitting the ground, and all of it taking place with handbags, notebooks, and jackets flying around in the air. The smaller items that had been stored under the seatbacks also had time to work themselves out and add to the chaos.  One of the latches for the galley cart also sprang open, so the entire experience was accompanied by a percussive beat of the carts slamming back and forth in the galley.  I had a moment of brief gratitude that the things are built to go back and forth, and not to turn, or we’d have had the blasted things racketing up and down the aisles on top of everything else.

It was a mess.

When the plane drops enough altitude fast enough, you get zero or negative G-forces.   The stuff that poured out of the overhead bins didn’t just fall and stay put.  It fell and went back up again, like we were on the space station. I had a paperback in my lap, and had to take a wrestling grip on it because the g-forces kept yanking the thing straight up out of my hold to hit me in the face.

The clothes, handbags, books, and small items are not the only thing flying around in the cabin.  You get…fluids.   Consider the basic airsickness bag.  It’s narrow.  The opening is about as big as a yawning mouth, by design.  Now consider trying to get one out of the seat back pocket while the plane is not just rocketing unpredictably up and down, but jerking and swooping hard from side to side at the same time, and the g-forces are such that they’re actually pulling things out of your hands.  Now, try to puke into that narrow, narrow bag with all the above going on.  Don’t forget that the air is full of flying items.   No matter how dedicated you are to remaining tidy – more on that in a moment – you’ll understand the challenges presented by the situation.  Even with the best of intentions, there’s going to be a…Miss Rate.  And when there is, that…material…is going to be added to the stuff that is already flying around in the air.

Most fortunately, it was a relatively light flight, and no one in my immediate vicinity…contributed…in this manner.  I could see it happening about 15 rows up, though.  Ugh.

Throughout all of this, I kept reminding myself of the words of my grad school-aviatrix buddy, about how planes are built to take abuse.  And I’d always had this idea – watching too many movies, I’m sure – that if things were very bad the flight attendants would be telling us to assume some position, or whatever.  So it came as a complete surprise to me when I saw what really happens.  I tell you this: when you see the flight attendants crying and praying, you know things are really pretty hairy.  This is not a pleasant experience.  If I were the type to get frightened, which I’m not (and this is how I know it) I probably would have peed in my pants.  And not cared.  Given the fluid issue discussed above, I am fairly certain that someone near me was having that very experience. At the time, though, all I could think was “Oh, so this is what it must have been like on the space shuttle right before it blew up.”

So here we are, on the Thrill Ride of A Lifetime, with all kinds of…stuff…flying around in the air, and most of the other passengers are praying, crying, vomiting, or some combination of the above. But – this was surprising – no one was screaming.  I would have thought for sure that there would have been screaming, but I guess it turns out that you only scream up to some given Threshold of Fear, and past that, there is only crying, praying, and vomiting.  There we are, all of us, realizing – no matter how slow, thick, or committed to a state of denial, it happened to all of us by some point – that we were in all likelihood about to die.  Right then, right there.

I started wishing that the plane would hurry up and get to the business of crashing.  The suspense was just about killing me.  It seemed completely inevitable.  I wondered if we would break apart in the air, and hoped firmly that I would not find myself falling, strapped in my seat, from a height of thousands of feet.  I have no head at all for heights – I can hardly even get up on a stepladder without having vertigo – and I fervently hoped that if this is what was going to happen, I’d just cross right over that Threshold of Fear myself and black out so I wouldn’t have to experience the inevitable terror.  Or that maybe I’d get lucky and get so frightened I’d have a heart attack and wouldn’t have to experience the impact.

I wondered if Roy would feel it when I died, like some people say happens to their mates.  I wished that I didn’t have to sit on my purse to keep it from joining the streaming chaos in the cabin, and that I could get my phone and call him to tell him I loved him.

I wondered if the plane would just arrow right into the earth, and all of the seats would blow loose and pile up and squish us all.  I wondered if there would be a fireball, and hoped that I’d never know.  But mostly, I wished that it would just bloody hurry up and happen because I was getting heartily tired of all of the nasty stuff flying in the air and the panic going on everywhere else.  I might not have crossed my Threshold of Fear, but I certainly crossed my Threshold of Ennui.  And yet, at the same time, I had an inescapable vision of Slim Pickens making re-entry on the nuclear warhead at the end of Doctor Strangelove, and experienced the bizarre urge to stand up out of my seat and shout WOOOOOO-HOOOOOOO!!!!  The only thing that keeps me from acting on this impulse is that when the plane slides hard sideways through the air, my head bangs against the wall.  I’m taking a pretty good thumping on the bean through all of this, but it’s definitely knocking the impulse to behave erratically out of my world.

And the whole time, I’m seeing the Logan runways appearing and receding in a tantalizing dance.  So close, and yet so far.  We were right there, and we just could not land.

Meanwhile, the really unexpected thing is transpiring around me.  As I mentioned, it was a light flight, and I didn’t have anyone next to me. But I found out through watching what was going on around me (while watching for projectiles and missiles flying through the air) what happens when you’re hanging out with a bunch of total strangers and you all arrive at the collective understanding, quickly, that you are all probably going to die very soon, and together.

People become amazing.

Some of them panic.  But some of them take care of the people who are panicking.  Some of them get really calm.  Some get a little bit nuts and want to do things like shriek WOOOOOO-HOOOOOO!!!! But what people mostly do is drop all of the prickly bits they usually carry around on the outside, and they reach out to each other.

Somewhere, in the flying cloud of mayhem of luggage, among all of the crying and praying and screaming and vomiting, in the sideways jerks that slam your head against the wall of the plane, people become vastly more human than they usually pretend to be, and in that moment, one can see what our potential is (and if you live long enough, you can grieve that we don’t do more to be that way ordinarily).

The guy in the aisle seat of my row found the hand of the unfamiliar woman in the opposite aisle seat and held it so tightly he had bruises on his palm afterwards.

The woman behind me panicked in front of her young daughter, who cried.  One of the businessmen behind the panicking woman undid his seat belt (an act of true bravery, under the circumstances) while the guy next to him (another stranger) anchored him by holding onto his belt.  The first guy leaned forward and hit the seat-back release, dropping the back of the panicking woman’s seat – upon which both guys (now belted back in) leaned forward to hold her hands, while a third one spoke soothingly to the child.  None of these people knew each other, none had been speaking to each other, before.  We’d all been in our tired, private commuting worlds.  Before.

Ultimately, it is clear from my presence telling the tale, the pilot managed to hit the ground before getting blown back up, and he managed to keep the wheels under the plane as he did so.

And then, the plane stopped where it landed.  The detritus fell out of the air.  An extended moment of pure silence descended on us as we took in the realization that we were not, in fact, dead.  I don’t think anyone could quite believe it for a while.  And the plane…just…sat.

After another eternity, the pilot came on, in tears, voice shaking, for the first time since he’d told the flight attendants to prepare the cabin for landing.  He told us that in 25 years of flying, including a military flight career, he’d never had an experience even close to this one, and that he could hardly believe we were all still alive.  And then he paused and said “Welcome to Boston.”

And then there was applause.  And some screaming, as people approached and crossed the Threshold of Fear from the other side.  And plenty of crying.  And a fair amount of people saying “UGH.” for reasons that should now be obvious.

Eventually the pilot drove the plane to the gate, and we all got off and got cleaned up, and left.  I found Roy and told him I wanted a drink now. And I and my fellow wonderful, amazing people, took our leaves of each other silently and without fanfare, and no sign at all that we were forever joined by this experience.

I didn’t expect the flying detritus.  I didn’t expect it to feel like it went on forever.  And I didn’t expect the love.

There’s a Fine Line…Or How I Took A Black Diamond Warm-Up Run

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Roy and I celebrated his birthday last week by breaking his upper arm, and this week by heading off to Vermont for a blizzard – thus racking up the second of the three times required for the “hazakah” in terms of fleeing bad weather at home by going to the mountains.  Seems counter-intuitive, I know – but our thinking was that whatever happened at home, it was sure to snow on the ski areas in Vermont, and since that has only happened twice this winter, we didn’t want to miss it.  Or, rather, I didn’t want to miss it, and he didn’t want me to miss it.  ‘Cos he’s an A-Plus Husband, that’s why.  So after we wrapped up our business on Thursday, we went late up to Vermont.

Friday, Roy decorated the chair in front of the fireplace while I went off to experience Skiing At Bromley Mountain.  What I can say about Bromley:

The people were exceptionally nice.

It’s a Classic New England Ski Area.

Beyond that, I can’t say, because the upper half of the mountain was in a complete white-out the entire time I was there, so I really didn’t see much more than the base area.  I skied, of course.  I just skied without actually being able to see anything.  In some ways, this isn’t as awful as it sounds – what you can’t see can’t terrify you…in other ways, it’s worse than it sounds.  Nothing like having the ground drop away from you when you’re sliding down an ice-covered mountain on skis.

“Classic New England Ski Area” is a local code-word for “runs are narrow, steep, and icy.”  I’ve said it before, and not for the last time:  New England turns out some of the best technical skiers in the country.  We have to be good technical skiers.  Most of the time, we’re not actually skiing on snow.  It might be white, but believe me, there is a yawning chasm between skiing on snow, skiing on hardpack (a New England word meaning “nicest possible ice”), and skiing on boilerplate (a New England word meaning “worst possible ice”).

Bromley, based on my experiences before the mountain became both incredibly crowded (all the kids had a snow day) and totally invisible, is worth another trip under better circumstances.

Later, we holed up and just let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Vermont got off relatively lightly.  The area where we stayed picked up maybe 8 inches.  The  two closest mountains pulled in a foot.  My home mountain, which was not on the itinerary for once, picked up a foot and a half.  At home, we got well over 2 feet, pushing 3.  All in all, I’d rather the 3 feet fell on the ski runs and not on my driveway, which now makes me wish my car tires had nice metal edges like my skis, just so I’d have a shred of control backing up and pulling in.

But that’s not the Fine Line.  The Fine Line involves a tastily discounted ticket to Stratton from Liftopia, purchased weeks ago for today’s date – well before I knew of any massive snowstorm on the horizon.  Good for me the storm hit when it did – Liftopia tickets are things you use or lose – as in “eat” – if you can’t make it for some reason or other.  It’s a cost-benefit quandary, that’s what I tell my students.  Take on more risk, get higher return.  That’s life for you.

This time I won the trade-off, and as Roy headed off to enjoy fireside reading, I headed up the mountain.

Stratton doesn’t have a reputation for being a particularly hard-core experience.  The glades there have been referred to by some as “psychotic”, but I stay out of the trees.  Never a good idea to go tree-skiing by yourself.

I find I do not have the same response to things like black diamonds, though, and as I headed up the hill on the lift, I inspected the surface and runs, and decided to take my warm-up run down the front.

All of Stratton’s front runs are blacks.  I knew this.  I could see it on the map, even.  And yet, I still found myself regarding them and thinking “I can take that. I will take that.”  I did check with a lift buddy to make sure they weren’t hiding some kind of insane drops, cliffs, chutes, canyons, or any other kind of sheer lunacy from sight, and he agreed that no, they were not, and no, they were not too intense.  He also confirmed my suspicion that they would get skied off very quickly, with the loose powder and the anticipated thronging hordes arriving by the minute from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

And that is how, incredibly, I found myself taking an unfamiliar black diamond on a totally unfamiliar mountain as my warm-up run for the day.  Because I knew I could, and because it was better to do it earlier than to wait.

I did it, too.  Pity I didn’t have my happy helmet cam, but this guy did, and he shares the experience beautifully.

Now, I would be lying myself black in the teeth if I said I skied that black diamond pretty.  I didn’t.  I skied it like the dude this guy blazes past at 2:12, which is to say “carefully, cautiously, slowly, and in total control”.  It was good skiing, even if it wasn’t pretty skiing.

I also cannot deny that I watched this video and thought “Holy cow, I didn’t realize the run was that steep.”  I mean, I’m thinking “I skied this as my warm-up run?!?”

That’s the Fine Line.

It didn’t set a nice precedent for the day.  Having started my day out skiing carefully, cautiously, slowly, and in total control, I didn’t break out of that – especially not the “slowly” and “cautiously” bit.  Probably just as well, because the mountain got crowded, but more than that, it got crowded with testosterone-soaked adrenaline junkies who didn’t really give a damn who else was on the run with them or what anyone else was doing.  Balding dude without the helmet and with the goggles worn backward on your head and the funky nasty little soul patch – the one who ran us all over scrambling to jump the lift line, I’m talking about you.  And a bunch of your homies, too.  When people say “I OWNED that run” they don’t mean “I behaved as if I was the only individual with legal right to occupy that run.”

I’ve never seen so many reckless and aggressive adult skiers on a mountain in my life.

The skiers at my home mountain are a lot more mellow, as a group.  I think I’ll keep it.

It’s amazing how quickly people like that can turn a foot of fine powder into a cake of ice, too.  I swear it.  And they aren’t any more fun when you meet them on the freeway going home in the afternoon than they are when you encounter them tearing heedlessly down a run.

Anyway.  There wasn’t a lot of pretty skiing on my part today, but there were hours of good skiing.

When I met Roy in the lodge afterward, he took one look at me and said “What have you been doing?”

“Getting a workout,” I said.

“I can tell.”

I don’t know what he saw, and I didn’t stop to ask.  Instead, I launched into the primary concern occupying my mind at the moment and for the last 20 minutes.

I wanted the run sign from my warm-up black diamond.  I wanted a souvenir of this experience to hang up in my study, where every time I feel downtrodden, I can look at it and say Holy Smokes I Took A Strange Black Diamond As A Warm Up Run.

And the shop didn’t have any.  The shopkeeper said she didn’t think they even make them.

What kind of mountain had black diamonds and massive numbers of Hero Skiers and doesn’t offer souvenir run signs for all of their difficult runs?  That is the question I had been asking myself, and then asked of Roy.

“What?” he said.

“I took this black diamond as a warm-up this morning and I wanted to buy a sign but the shop didn’t have any.” I said.

Roy really is an A-Plus Husband, because his response was not to get all ironic and say “First World Problems, eh, hahahaha” which would have earned him…well, I’m not sure what, but it wouldn’t have been anything nice.

Instead he said “WHOA! You rode a black diamond today?”

“Yeah,” I said. “As my warm-up run.”

That’s when it started to really percolate down.

“Oh,” I said. “Does this make me cross the line from “intermediate” skier to “advanced” skier?  When I took a blue as a warm-up for the first time I realized I wasn’t a novice any more.  I whooped it up all the way down that run.  I still remember it like it was yesterday. Or do you think that’s just crazy?”

A tiny voice inside Roy’s brainstem woke up and began to alert him, at low volume, that there was some kind of Test nearby.  It didn’t tell him what the Test was, just that there was one entering the area.

He paused for a bite of soup.

“I think this soup needs more basil and garlic.” he said.

My vision sharpened, and as it did, I could see that the warning klaxons were starting to go off.

“You changed the subject.  That means you didn’t want to answer.” I said.

WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!!

Warning. Warning. Warning.

Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!

WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!

He swallowed and bought some time by asking what the question was again.

WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!

Warning. Incoming.

“I said that I thought that it was totally reasonable for me to take a strange black diamond run as a warm-up run, and wondered if that puts me over the line into “advanced skier” territory, but I am bummed because I did not ski it pretty, and was extremely cautious, so maybe it was just crazy that I did that.  If I was really advanced I would be able to ski it with total confidence knowing that no matter what the hill was going to throw at me, I would be able to take, and not even worrying about it until it was there.  So maybe I’m not actually advanced.

“Oh,” he said. “No, that’s not an advanced skier who can do that.  That is an expert skier who can do that.”

PEW! PEW! PEW PEW PEW!  He SHOOTS the missiles directly out of the sky and blows them up, totally harmlessly, in the stratosphere. And only uses one bullet.  And the All Clear begins to sound.

I regard him with awestruck wonder.  He regards me with hopeful satisfaction.  I burst out laughing. What a genius.  I’ll take that.  Advanced.  And I’ll know I’m expert when I racket down the black diamonds and don’t worry about what lurks below the horizon line.

Then I took him outside to show him the run.  You could just see it peeking through the trees.

Roy asked why I hadn’t taken either one of the gigantic wide rolling diamonds that run right down the front of the face.  “Why is it that you always wind up on the narrowest runs on the mountain?” he wanted to know.

That struck me.  I don’t know, but he’s right. If you offer me a football-field-wide rolling expanse of white on one hand, and a steep, narrow, creeping trail with poor line-of-sight on the other, I always seem to go for the narrow one.  Makes me wonder what will happen when I finally get to ski in the wide-open expanses out west.  Probably wind up having to stick to the bunny slope.

Life In The Fast Lane, or New England Skiers Have Fifty Words For Ice

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New England has the same saying as Texas has, which is “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”.  It’s pretty hackneyed, but this week?  Totally true.

On Sunday, it was zero.

On Monday, there was a snowstorm.  A pitiful excuse for a snowstorm, but a snowstorm nonetheless.

On Tuesday, it rained.

On Wednesday, it was 60 with a pea soup fog.

On Wednesday night, there was a Biblical deluge.

On Thursday, the world blew inside out and then the front came through and froze the lining.

Even in my world, which features endless and bizarre extremes of weather, this was Something New.  A Nine Days’ Wonder.  Something To Write Home About.

Really, too much “weather” in too short a time.

Last weekend, the skiing was superb.  All week it had been colder than the proverbial Brass Monkey and the ski areas went to town making snow.  By Wednesday, the fog was sucking all that nice fresh snow right off the hills, dammit, and by Thursday, what was left was soaking wet, and by Thursday night, it had frozen rock hard.

They weren’t mountains this morning.

They were icebergs.

Icebergs that had been run over and chewed up to 4 inches deep by snowcat grooming machines.

I’ll say now that my home mountain, which remains nameless in this post, has a long and honorable history of terrific snowmaking and grooming.

I’m sure it was a powerful testament to their mountain operations that the runs were open at all today.

Whether that was a good idea or not is another matter.

Roy started off today as he usually does, which is to want to take a run together to bond (see expanded discussion: Of Lice And Men).  Rather predictably, early on in the run he urged me to go off and ski, etc.

The run was in…I search for the right word…it was in APPALLING condition.  I have never seen this run in shape this bad.  It was a nightmare.  The groomers had chewed up 4″ of ice and left the surface littered with chunks of ice ranging in size from “marble” to “grapefruit” with a few “volleyball” in here and there.  Big goddamn chunks of ice everywhere.  The gravelly surface was punctuated here and there with piles of fluffy powder from the snowmaking equipment, which, unfortunately, was not adhering particular well to the real surface, which one one big damn sheet of bullet proof ice.

Was I entirely surprised to get out on the run and find it in that condition?

No, not given the ghastly spectrum of weather that has been hurled at the hill in the last five days.

Was I happy to see it?

Hell no.  And I’m a good skier.  Definitely I’m a pretty good skier, possibly even a very good skier (depending on your reference range…I mean, I’m not even on the spectrum if you define “very” good as “olympic-caliber” or “seen on X games”, but if you define it by reference to “random collection of people seen skiing on the mountain on any given weekend day” yes, I’m “very” good.)  And I was on the right skis for the conditions.  And even I was having a bit of a battle with the surface of that run.  I know how to ski sheets of ice.  I hate it, but I can do it.  I know how to ski a carpet of loose rolling ice balls.  I hate that too, but I can do it.  And I know how to ski lots of loose fluffy manmade snow.  Usually I like that.  Not as fun when it’s covering a sheet of ice and not adhering to that ice well.  But I can do it.

Problem is, you ski these three different surfaces using three very different techniques.  And encountering them randomly within 10 linear feet is no fun at all.

I’d already stopped once to tell Roy that this was a one-run-and-done day, and that we just needed to get to the bottom and get the hell out of it.  We both have season passes, so it’s not like it cost us anything to go.

At that point he gave me the usual “you go on” spiel.

I said, and I quote, “Are you out of your ****ing mind?  NO WAY am I leaving you to ski this blasted mess by yourself.  NO WAY.”

He crept on, skiing more and more conservatively.  The wretched thing is that if he had been skiing just a little bit faster what happened next might not have happened at all.

I opened it up just a hair and blasted down the run until I found a good spot to pull over and wait.  One skier after another came down.  Many of them cursing as they did.

Roy hove into sight up the hill – and I say “up” for a given value of “up”.  The incline on this part of the run is such that I usually wind up poling to keep some respectable speed up on it, the angle is that slight.  Roy hove into sight at his careful little creep, and by golly, he went right over.  Hit a blasted bare patch of ice, caught his ski edge on an adjacent pile of snow, and toppled.

It wouldn’t have been a problem if the snow had been, well, like snow, which is generally characterized by qualities of “soft”-ness, “fluffy”-ness, and forgivability.  But it wasn’t, because it wasn’t snow at all, it was boilerplate.  Bullet-proof ice, in the common parlance of the New England Skier.

I didn’t see that at first, being a bit downhill and all.  What I did see is that he struggled to his feet and then just stood there.  And stood there and stood there and stood there.  Making no apparent effort to head downhill.

“Ah, ****” I said.  “Something’s wrong”.

As I bent over to strip my own skis off – to make a hike back up the dusty-powder and ice-chunk-strewn sheet of ice I’d just skied down – a ski instructor with a flock of little kids, who I’d passed 10 minutes before as he exhorted his flock “NO PIZZAS! FRENCH-FRY TURNS ONLY!” pulled over to consult with Roy.  When he stayed there, I poured as much speed as I could into my hike back up the hill. It took a while.  By the time I got there, a mountain ambassador pulled up and started talking into his radio.  

“Ah, ****” I said. “This is going to mean the meat-wagon.”

And so it did.  About the time I got there, Ski Patrol arrived.  Turns out Roy had smacked the iceberg with sufficient force to break his humerus, although we didn’t know that for sure until about an hour and half later.

“Are they sending the meat wagon?” I said.

The ambassador frowned.  “We don’t use that term.  We call it a sled.”

“Come on,” I said. “Not even in the locker room?”

He grinned at me.

“Not where guests of the mountain can hear, I’m thinking” I said.

Fortunately, the arrival of the meat wagon got him off the hook for answering.  Ski Patrol bundled Roy’s arm up, laid him down in the sled, and tucked him in.  I got to ski down after him, through some of the most gnarly surface (in a bad way) I’ve ever had the extreme displeasure of encountering on any mountain anywhere.

I got to see a new side of the ski hill, that was cool.  And the personnel we dealt with were wonderful.  Very professional, very nice people.  And they had a doctor’s office with an X-ray and stuff out the back door, very convenient.  They were the ones who revealed that his arm was fractured.

So much for the romantic getaway and early birthday dinner (Roy’s birthday is early next week).  I hauled him home and took him straightaway to the local trauma center, for access to the region’s best orthopedists.

Roy has been a champ.  Given how much verve and enthusiasm he can pour into excessively dramatic whinging over a paper cut, I’d have thought that he’d have been screaming his head off over this one.  Instead, he got all stoic.  Who knew?

Naturally, it was his dominant arm that got hit, too.  Who ever fractures the arm they don’t write with?   It’s going to be a long six weeks at the House O’ Accounting, I tell you that.  It would have been easier if this was one of those breaks they can put in a cast.  Casts are miserable, but at least you don’t have to worry too much about the broken bone once the cast is on.  This thing?  It’s the head of the humereus, right up near the shoulder.  No cast.  No splint even.  Just a flimsy little sling that – as far as I can tell – serves mostly as a reminder not to move that arm about.

Crappy birthday present for Roy. No more skiing for the rest of the season.  Not even any snowshoeing for ages.  I’m so bummed for him.  I’d like to make it up to him, but everything I can think that he’d want to do will make his arm hurt.  This sucks.