Thursday, December 09, 2004

Day 2- Fortune Favors the ****ing Foolhardy

Outside it is raining, Blade-Runner style, neither the Canadian-Celsius nor my American-Fahrenheit (F*** yeah!) thermometers registering freezing.
Curiously, my Kelvin sensor assures me water is boiling outside (at 280° it damn well better be) but it merely drizzles, ruining any prospect of skiing.
Using the resourcefulness of generations past, my father suggests going to eat lunch.
With the other family, we depart the Pan Pacific Lodge and Resort in search of food. Our quest for nutritious, delicious, and, in the case of my father, discounted hooch & vittles leads to a basement restaurant called Ye Olde Spaghetti Factory, or something like that.
The meal is notable for two things: the fresh sourdough that came with it (mmmmm, fresh sourdough), and our waiter, who introduces my parents to that quintessential Canadian expression, “eh?”
Apparently, my parents have never heard it before, or so it seemed from the way they kept trying to get him to repeat it.
All I could think of was “A Clockwork Orange” and them three droogs.

++++++
Brown hair, done in braided ‘tails, is that-
My dad makes the connection first. “Isn’t that the girl you were talking to yesterday?”
I run over to say hi, think better of it, but before I realize Canada also has laws against predatory stalkers (damn Canucks, they’ll suffer potheads and gays but not my kind), the laws of inertia have carried me to the point where I can’t resist tapping her on the shoulder.
She turns and recognizes me, smoothing over her expression of disgust/hatred/terror with a happy face in a remarkably short period of time.
So we stand there in the village square, smothered by cold rain as we converse, our little chat turning towards the inexplicable peppiness of everyone in Canada.
“I mean, I could get lost on the slops tomorrow and yell out ‘help!’ and our ultra-cheery concierge lady would pop out from behind a tree and tell me where to go in that funny accent of hers,” Amanda explains.
She says that’s just the way the Canadians are; I say that’s what legalized marijuana’ll do for you. We debate pointlessly as my father comes over and introduces himself to her parents, and her little sister, Stephanie. He pretends to be a native and points out all the sights, and recommends various restaurants and ski slopes he hasn’t been to.
Meanwhile, Amanda mentions her hotel, the Sundial, which, I realize, is right next to ours. “Maybe we’ll see each other around?”
She nods in her best Chamberlain impersonation. “Yeah, that would be, um, nice.”
I never saw here again*.

++++++
At the basement of the Pan-Pacific is a ski/snowboard gear rental place, which seems to be staffed almost exclusively by blonde, relentlessly perky college students with nametags that also denote which Commonwealth country they’re from. For a ski resort in Canada, there is an inexplicable high number of Australians working the rental counter.
As I listen to them chatter among themselves, I am reminded of just why I hate movies and TV shows where otherwise clean and wholesome actors and actresses are forced to put on hideously fake British-ish accents.
I say “British-ish” because most of them can’t, or won’t, understand the difference between English, Scottish, Irish, South African, Australian, Kiwi, and Canadian accent, were it to be impaled into them upon ski poles.
Strangely, the only actors I can think of who can believably fake accents regardless of nationality are both British. I thought for the longest time that Gary Oldman was American, and Christian Bale is simply uncanny.
Don’t even let me start on the strange case of Kristin, Australian with a mostly-Americanized, faux-Commonwealth accent.
I admire the vaguely curved shape of my skis and watch an in-house video of the rental shop employees training as my parents and the Ismaels attempt to pay for the rental.
On the TV screen, the new hires from Australia are videotaped being wrapped in plastic sheets and then being under the barrage of something that looks suspiciously like vomit.
My parents swipe their credit cards.
On the screen, the new hires are forced to eat large quantities of mayonnaise, vegemite (it’s wonderful to see people besides myself eating vegemite) and Tabasco sauce.
The machine rejects the credit cards.
On the screen, the new hires are forced, Fear-Factor-style, to eat frozen dinners that are still frozen.
I quote the SAS motto: “Fortune favors the bold”.
My parents bravely attempt to decipher Canadian cash in order to pay. I swear I hear the cashier mutter, “Bloody Muggles.

++++++
Our hotel, el Pan Pacific, has an outdoor heated pool and Jacuzzi, so, with nothing better to do, we put on various summer accoutrements and head outside.
My Kelvin sensor notwithstanding, it is COLD.
My ribs, poking out of my skin, don’t even have nerves to register the chill, and they agree on the frigidity.
I jump into the heated pool.
Apparently “heated pool” in Canada means something different than “heated pool” in America, because when I splash down I go rigid and die of hypothermia*.
Then I get out and go to the hot tub.
My Kelvin sensor screams
Warm relief floods my body as I bask in tropical water and stare quizzically at the snow-crested landscape.
My body accepts the heat.
I rise, like Aphrodite from the sea, or more appropriately, like Colonel Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now”, steam emanating from my body as “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” blasts in the background. I am awe-inspiring*.

Day 3- “Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity”
There’s a certain type of music that goes well with each and every type of sport.
For basketball, it’s “Leave You Far Behind”, by Lunatic Calm.
For football, it’s either “Sandstorm”, by that random DDR arcade machine, OR “Smoke on the Water” by the marching band.
For the old Ultraviolence, it’s Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (although some would argue that “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel is an equally likely candidate.
For skiing, I submit Andy Hunter’s “Go”, from the Exodus CD.
I would have been listening to it on the slopes, but fear of corroding the colored innards of my Ipod leaves it back at the lodge.
I whine about my Ipod’s vulnerability to snow and fog to my brother, who replies, “Well, if you brought your Ipod to the slopes, you wouldn’t’ be able to hear anything- everyone else would be like ‘AVALANCHE!’ and you would be like, ‘Just Boogie Down Tonight!’”.
Which is slightly ridiculous; my Pure Disco (Vo1. 1 and 2) albums do not go well with skiing.
So as I glide down the icy slopes, I’m humming along to memory, my skis guiding themselves, half-remembered muscle patterns pulling and straining my body in all the wrong directions.
I pull over to a stop, panting slightly, and wait for the rest of the group to catch up.
And I’m the Frank Miller of skiing.
Whatever the hell that means; I’m constantly waiting for them to catch up.
A blue-white blur whips past me, braided ‘tails flying in the wind. It takes me a moment to recognize her.
“Amanda!” I yell. She pulls perpendicular, waves at me, then yells back, “See you at the bottom!”
Being bound by my promise to stick with the rest of the group, and by my terminal lack of velocity, I cannot follow her.
After waiting for fifteen minutes, I say screw the group and ski down to what is apparently the only operating ski-lift on Whistler Mountain, judging by the number of people waiting in line for it.
Their combined body heat melts the ice and will soon leave Whistler Mountain bare of any whiteness at all, driving everyone to Blackcomb.
About forty minutes later I’m almost at the head of the line when I see the rest of the respective family members ski, ‘board, and, in the case of my mother, walk to the base of the slope.
Forced ahead by the crowd of people in line behind me, I am separated from the group, out of sight, out of mind.
Normally, in any sort of group-skiing situation, my obsessive-compulsive need for order would result in my having prepared meeting spots and contact points, maps, and walkie-talkies preset to correct frequencies, but my dad’s frenzied urge to get onto the slopes forced me to leave with merely a wing and a prayer.
Now, lost in Canada, the horizon between ice and air dissipated by rolling white fog, I am helpless. The Voice of Self Doubt starts to whine.
I force myself to remain calm, to return to that center of self where the storm passes over and the fire does not burn.
I summon my Inner Geek.
“In NJO #20: Final Prophecy, what did the Galactic Federation of Free Alliances do when they lost HoloNet access?” I ask myself. As I plunge deeply into my database of geek lore the answer comes to me.
This has absolutely no relevance to my current predicament, but it’s funny as hell.
Two hours pass.

++++++
Time seems to have flown relatively quickly, in terms of page-space-to-time-elapsed ratio. Little to no events seem to remain uncompressed. According to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, two hours of page space can be variably shaped and distorted in direct proportion to one’s velocity compared to the speed of ink. This can be explained simply as such: paper is not flat, but actually curved through the properties of mass, as proved by inescapably dense literary black holes like Ayn Rand.
The point is, if this was a movie screenplay, we would SMASH CUT to the “heated pool”, where sit the Carolyn, and Karim, me and Joey, and Amanda and Stephanie, who do not apparently have an outdoor “heated” pool but come over to use ours.
An intense simulation of naval warfare is underway. In 1944, as recruitment for the Kriegsmarine dipped low due to the extraordinary attrition among U-boat crews (caused partially by depth charges and partially by really bad sauerkraut), the internal Third Reich propaganda machine began indoctrinating children in the principles of underwater warfare using an ingenious pool game code-named “Marco Polo”.
Due to Marco Polo’s immediate postwar suppression throughout East Germany under the Communist-controlled Stasi, right-wing American leaders under the McCarthy administration embraced the game, helping to inspire a generation to romanticize the silent submarine service.
Even with the cancellation of the Seawolf-class submarine under the Clinton administration, Marco Polo continues to teach the Golden Rule of submarine battles: hear unto others before they ping unto you.
Our game plays out like a bad reenactment of “Das Boot”.
Da-DUM! Da-DUM! Da-DUM! Da-DUM! Da-DUMdaDUMdaDUMdaDUMdaDUMdaDUMdaDUM!!!

++++++
Having dried off considerably in the intervening hours, everyone goes to a German restaurant for dinner.
Inside, a waiter with a faux-French accent and fake lederhosen ushers us to a table.
My two main memories of the dinner are my dad chugging down a half-liter beer (which, according to my education in the metric system in Chemistry, works out to be about two gallons), and watching m ybrother eat a Germanified Thanksgiving dinner that includes sauerkraut-flavored cranberry sauce***.
‘Nuff said.

++++++
Having been invited over to come swim with us, the ladies feel it’s only proper to invite us over to play cards. Specifically, spades.
Their hotel, the Sundial Resort and Spa, is generously decked out in authentically fake Canadian wildlife (dead wildlife); the “fake log cabin” décor is quite overdone, considering the rooms are equipped with microwaves and cable TV.
But the fireplace is roaring and crackling ostentatiously; in my blue hoodie, navy blue sweater, and unlucky Hard Rock Café Saipan T-shirt I am sweating profusely.
Or maybe it’s the fact that Amanda, my partner, wonderful, cheery, lovable, yet dumb as a rock Amanda, has just bid double nil.
Of course, being down 160 points might have something to do with it, but even a rock- even a very dumb rock- would know better than to bid double nil.
Which is of course why Amanda pulls it off.
Almost.
By. One. Trick.
One. Trick. Only.
Mother. F***ing. Spade.
It’s the luck, I decide, not the sheer audacity of the call. Drawing upon my instincts, I find the reason.
There are four of us sitting around a dinner table, me, my partner Amanda sitting across from me, her little sister Stephanie sitting next to me, and Stephanie’s partner and my brother Joey sitting across from her.
Stephanie and Joey, both Republicans, partners in crime, are wearing almost identical long-sleeved red T-shirts.
But Amanda and I, the opposing pair, are both sophomores and Republicans, but I’m in a blue hoodie and she’s wearing a navy blue t-shirt.
The resonance is causing a massive shift in luck, since Lady Luck is, of course, a Bush supporter.
I make the instant judgment that it is, at least at this point in the proceedings, highly unlikely that Amanda will take off her shirt, so I strip off my hoodie.
Underneath is a navy blue sweater. Damn!
I pull off the sweater to reveal my unlucky Hard Rock Café T-shirt. Life is not treating me well.
“Screwit,” I say, “We’re playing euchre.”
Euchre, the national sport of the Midwest, is a card game played with twenty-four rather than the traditional fifty-two cards; if it was supported by OHSAA, I would have a Varsity letter. Hundreds of free periods spent playing have sharpened my wits, my creative spirit, and my silver tongue to the point at which I can instantly spit out thirty different reasons why playing euchre is a far more beneficial alternative than, say, going to class.
Amanda and Stephanie pick up the game rapidly; Joey has a bit of a learning handicap, mainly that he doesn’t want to learn.
In a minute Amanda and I are up 9-0.
“Now,” I say, “This is where we’re ‘in the barn’ as the slang goes.”
She gives me a look.
“Not like that. See, all you have to do is stick the scorecards behind your ears-”
I don’t even get to the milking of the cow bit before I am covered in flecks of laughter-induced spittle.
“No, seriously,” I say, picking them up and placing them carefully behind my ears, “Because you’re like a cow, you know, with the longer ears, and then you stick out your thumbs and yell ‘We’re in the barn! Milk me-’”
A second round of spittle covers me; I look like a foamy Heineken idol.
“Are-you-serious-?” Amanda wants to know between her pulmonary spasms.
“Well, um, yeah-”
My brother can’t even muster a sarcastic comment.
Stephanie, being far more intellectual, self-controlled, and mature, keeps a straight face and says, “I think we’ve milked this joke for all it’s worth-”
I wipe the foam off and wait for them to finish exercising their diaphragm muscles. Then I go blind alone, and unlike Amanda, pull off all five.
Having won the game I pull out a map and Amanda and I attempt to find a meeting point for tomorrow.
“Well, the problem is that I don’t really know where I’m going to be tomorrow-”
“Maybe we’ll run into each other on the slopes,” she says. “It happened before; I’m sure it’ll happen again.”
I shrug. “See you tomorrow then.”
I never saw her again*.

Day 4- That’s the Way (I Like It)

Figures cut through the fog that obscures Blackcomb Mountain. They lean in and out, coming around the curves, shifting their weight to the point back and forth, and generally getting themselves carved into very small chunks by inconsiderate snowboarders.
Snowboarders are the bane of the earth; on the grand Dante-ian scale of funny Hell and comedic Purgatory they rate a very special cell in the tenth circle, right alongside ditzy cheerleaders and band slugs.
They breed nothing but malice and disdain for their fellow man (a.k.a. the average skier) and, like cockroaches, spread fast across a ski slope, overrunning families who just want to have a morning of fun without having their innards sliced apart by razor-sharp board edges ridden by idiots who are like Tony Hawk, except minus the coolness.
To remove snowboarders from slopes, honest people have tried combinations of derision, bans, and concentrations of automatic weapons fire, but roaches are hardy little things, and they just keep coming.
One of the crusaders against the darkness is a boy. The boy glides gently over the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot spring flows, weaving and bobbing his way through the horde, singing and crying-
Oh wait, that’s me.
So here I am going down, the Immigrant Song stuck in my head, attempting desperately to get to the bottom of the slope without getting caught in a drive-by-snowboarding or bumping my skis on seemingly invisible rocks which nonetheless have enough mass to severely disrupt my run.
The Green, I’ve been told, is good. There are signs that distinguish, at every single fork in the trail, the Green Runs from the Blue, the Red, and the dreaded Black. Curiously, I have yet to see a marker for a Black Diamond run, although I have seen a few hastily scrawled signs with the words, “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here”.
Blackcomb is supposed to be the less popular of the twin peaks, but given the amount of scum and skiers who have arrived there, you would think that it’s the only one.
I’ve already lost my family to the cold, harsh slopes* and now, it seems, the probability of me making it down to the bottom shrinks exponentially.
My “squawk box” spits something out. It’s a yellow Motorola walkie-talkie with 20^10 channels, all of which are being used by loud and rude Chinese tourists trying to coordinate their ski groups. Right now it is diving safely in my right jacket pocket, submerged deep beneath a layer of Goretex and another layer of maps, and a further layer of tissues which I know I will never use, because by the time I’ve taken off my glove to restore manual dexterity, breathed on my hand to restore hemoglobin circulation, and greased the pocket zipper to restore freedom of motion, the long line of snot has frozen over into a salty trail beneath my left nostril.
The squawk box squeals again and this time I definitely hear the word “Harrison” in it, so I coast to a stop, stick out my ski poles horizontally to defend myself against marauding snowboarders, wedge said poles in my North Face-clad armpits, then reach rather awkwardly to take off my glove, breath on my hand, grease the zipper, and then open my left jacket pocket.
There is no squawk box there.
The cold is affecting my memory more than ever. I make a mental note to have that fixed, then grease the other zipper and open my right jacket pocket.
The yellow submarine’s “Push to Talk” button is remarkably small and difficult to press with my frostbitten hands. After several tries I manage to hit it and say, “Who called me?”
“Never mind, we solved the problem,” comes the reply.
I grit my teeth, place the walkie-talkie back in my pocket, zip up, give my poor hand one last breath, and then slip my hand back into my glove.
They say if you hear voices while on the slopes, you’re actually dying of frost. In actuality, of course, the voice is coming from my chest, near the chunk of coal I use to fill that empty spot inside.
Grumbling, I go through the whole process again and open up with a, “What?”
“Your friend is at the restaurant.”
Before I start off my rambling ten-minute monologue about how if I had any friends they would be here with me and not enjoying the warmth of an indoor eating area, the speaker adds, “The one you met on the plane.”
I nod and tell him to tell them that I’m coming, and then start skiing downhill.
The restaurant, like, apparently, everything else in Canada, is done in a fake-log-cabin style with fifteen stuffed animal heads nailed to any wall space that isn’t taken up by huge cafeteria-style menus offering overcooked food for vastly inflated prices. A quick glance at the menu confirms what I’ve known for a long time: in Canada, pot is cheaper to buy than food.
When I find Amanda and her family, I decline to comment on that little fact as they are eating chili from bread bowls.
Why bread bowls have not caught on in the US is something I’ll never understand. They are delicious, nutritious, and, most importantly, save you the trouble of washing dishes. Finding a restaurant that serves these hollow shells of dough is rare; apparently, finding rare things is the theme of this trip.
A little shift in arrangements means I am going to be skiing with Amanda, Stephanie, and their parents, the Fantastic Four of skiing. In the first thirty seconds of our fivesome on the slope I realize that I am very severely outclassed, mainly by the fact that they decide to head down the slope marked “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.”
I snidely ask if Amanda’s father’s name is Virgil (and if her mother’s name is Beatrice) but given the fact that she’s gliding down the slopes twice as fast as I am, it’s doubtful she’ll hear me.
Beatrice kindly stops and waits for me to unstrap my skis and walk down the damn hill.
I stare down the more-or-less vertical slope, through the fog, across the steppes of powder snow and ninety-degree angles, and into the abyss.
It stares back at me.
I close my eyes and channel Elise: “It’s all in the hips!”
Then I take off.
Halfway down I am sadistically singing “Stuck in the Middle With You” and wishing I had a razor blade handy but by then I’ve already gotten into the joint-wrenching rhythm, glide-SNAP-turn-glide-SNAP-turn-glide, swiveling my hips, knees, and ankles in syncopation with my shoulders, poles, and tongue, a swift slice through the black diamond.
When I get to the bottom Amanda laughs and says, “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
I am forced to admit that it’s not.
“Good, now we can do a black run.”
I raise an eyebrow. “That wasn’t a black run?”
“No, silly!” she laughs at me and her sister giggles. “That was a Blue one.”
I sigh and get on the ski lift.

++++++
At the end of the day we ride the covered chairlift down the mountain and end up on the ground walking and mincing in our ski boots back to the hotel. There, we stand, holding our skis over our right shoulders. Amanda and I part for the last time*.
“Have fun!” I say. We hug, somewhat awkwardly, partly because we both have difficulty with PDA, but mostly because our skis are jammed up each other’s nostrils.
At least it scraped the frozen snot off.

++++++
And so the everyone departs Whistler Village, having left behind their rental skis, their indelible mark on the townsfolk (that poor waiter will never say “eh” again), and about 80% of my college fund.
We cram ourselves into the same suburban and take off for the big city of Vancouver, which, my memory reminds me, is near Seattle.
“Seattle,” I muse. “Who do I know who lives in Seattle?”
I ponder that question as Pure Disco resounds in my head. K.C. and the Sunshine Gang influence my thinking quite a bit.
“A KYW person,” I continue to muse. “A KYW person. Who do I know who lives in Seattle?”
I am interrupted by little Karim, who asks if he can listen to my Ipod. I shrug, tell him he’s too young to appreciate any of my music, but he’s insistent and very loud, so I reluctantly hand him one of my earbuds so he too can boogie down.
Then his older sister Carolyn wants to listen too, to my amalgam of tributes to bad taste. My Ipod is the only place where Kool and the Gang, Rob Dougan, Lunatic Calm, Overlord, Tomoyasu Hotei, Smash Mouth, and Claude Debussey can all coexist in peace.
I let them listen to oldies and goldies, to both the Guess Who and original Jimmy Hendrix recording of “American Woman” (and trying my best to avoid telling them my Karaoke-with-Daniel-Erin-and-a-very-sleep-deprived-Nina story), and then spin them off on some tunes from the Matrix.
Eventually, they both fall asleep.
My mom, sitting in the front seat, has also fallen asleep, but wakes up and asks my dad, driving, how long she’s been sleeping.
I check my watch- it’s been about fifteen minutes.
“Three hours,” my dad says without a hint of shame. “We’re almost to Vancouver.”
My dad has this trait of being able to pull off the most ridiculous lies, which goes along with his cheapskatery. It was a very, very long time before I finally realized that our prime source of luminescence was not invented by Mr. Lightbulb.
“Really?” she says.
My dad gestures to the abysmal blackness outside. “Can’t you see the skylights?”
She sighs. “We’re not going to be in Vancouver for a very long time, are we?”
My dad shakes his head.
She asks for my Ipod, “something classical, please”, and I set the playlist up, starting with Marty O’Donnell’s “Truth and Reconciliation Suite”. She puts on the earbuds and is pleasantly surprised.
“I didn’t know you had Riverdance on here!” she gushes.
I smile. “Um, Mom, that’s not the soundtrack to Riverdance. It’s the soundtrack to Halo.”
She frowns at me. “What’s Halo?”
“It’s a videogame.”
Surprise is written large all over her face. “They have music like this in videogames?”
“We’re not all Neanderthals, Mother dear.”
She shakes her head. “What a waste.”
I shake my head. “Philistine.”

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