Aside

I guess vignettes from places that I once was

My grandmother was a very bad driver, a fact that I didn’t realize until she was almost dead. But she was. So when Laura, my boss, tells me that she drives like a little old lady, I picture Gram behind the steering wheel of her little white 80’s Chrysler sedan, taking my brother and sister and me home from some sort of thing that she was doing — boiling us hot dogs and burning brownies, or letting us squash 2222red mites on my dad’s old boat while she chain-smoked in the living room, or watching us climb up the hill in her backyard and roll down it, or something (it’s always summer in these memories — we sledded down that hill, too) — and nearly killing us as she swerved across the double-yellow lines into oncoming traffic. She died on Mother’s Day, in 2003, of natural causes.

But my boss doesn’t actually drive like a little old lady. Little old ladies, at least in my experience, combine their slowness with recklessness. My boss drives slowly, but the similarity ends there. She drives like someone who is 38 and has only had her license for three years. As in her work life, she is nervously vigilant behind the wheel. As with her managerial style, she doesn’t know when to chill the fuck out and steer for the sunset.

***

In Portland it snowed for several days. On the first day, Josh and I drove Krystie to the MAX station, so that she could get back to her hotel near the airport, from which her rescheduled flight would depart the next morning at 6 AM. Josh said, as we pulled a U-turn in a parking lot, “For a person from the city, she seems a little bit skittish about public transportation.” We both laughed. Krystie is a colleague in marketing and was along for the mostly-foiled-by-weather Oregon trip to hit some of her own performance targets, to prove ROI to our new board for the marketing department. Or some shit like that. Krystie is 27, just got engaged, a librarian, and excited to be alive. The whole way to the station, she was worried about everything.

Josh and I, on the other hand, knew that Portland doesn’t just give you a snowstorm everyday.

“Look,” I said, “just take the train and it’ll be fine. Call me if it doesn’t work out and we’ll pick you up on the side of the highway.”

Krystie laughed nervously. We had spent the morning in a coffee shop — me responding to email, her calling our travel agent, various airlines, hotels, etc, trying to get back to New York before the world ended and Portland shut down. I had nowhere in particular to be, except for a couch in southeast Portland for the weekend. As long as the corner store remained open, I was pretty much okay. But even six months into her job, Krystie doesn’t know the primary rule about travel, which is that even if you don’t have the best laid plans, it will probably be okay.

I texted her later, from the restaurant that Josh, Neil, and I had cross-country skied to for dinner, to make sure that she was all right.

“I’m here at last, it’s crazy out there,” she said.

“Yikes. Sorry it took so long!”

“I have my Wendy’s I’m great.”

***

The snow in Portland eventually turned to freezing rain and coated everything with ice, including the snow on which it formed. The city was shut down. Krystie was right to get her Wendy’s and get out of dodge when she did. But I still had my friends’ couch and a weekend to wait it out. An unlimited expense account. The “indoor gun,” with which to shoot empty beer cans set atop the armoire while listening to Abbey Road and vaguely watching the Olympics. I still had Carla, Neil’s dog, who is afraid of life almost as much as I am.

The night after Snowpocalypse became Icepocalpyse, I woke up at 5:00 AM and went outside to piss and smoke a cigarette. At 165 pounds, I could almost walk on the surface without breaking through. Trevor texted me a couple of weeks later:

“You remember that K2 game we used to play on the hill across from your house? The snow right now is freakin perfect for it — ice crust and everything. If only my damn yard wasn’t flat.”

As a matter of keeping the record straight, we only really had the chance to play K2 maybe two, three days in our lives before the conditions were lost to us forever. It really was the best game, though. Here’s how it went.

  1. Watch a hit 90’s movie about people climbing K2, the second highest mountain in the Himalaya and, ergo, the world
  2. Have an Icepocalypse in Massachusetts shortly thereafter
  3. Gather friends to slide down tiny hill atop the ice during Icepocalypse
  4. Pretend you are really on a mountainside and desperately need to save one another from sliding into a crevasse or some such
  5. Punch holes into ice upon which you are sliding in order to have a foot- or handhold from which to grab your prepubescent friends and “save” them as they slide into the imaginary crevasse.
  6. Rinse and repeat until you’ve all died a million deaths and saved a million lives, or until the ice has melted.

Whichever comes first.

And Trevor lives in Connecticut, and sure it was Arctic Vortex month, but the fact that these conditions had manifested themselves on both coasts pretty much simultaneously (in the grand scheme of climate-type-things, of course), in Oregon and New England, and that we’d both remembered that goddamn K2 game when they did… I dunno. It wasn’t even nostalgia. It was just an appreciation of what life used to be about. Because life used to be about simplicity. And now, in the pursuit of that simplicity, we simply make it all that much more complicated.

When it isn’t. Life’s really just about saving each other. And childhood is just about practicing that skill.

***

Dave is my boss. Or rather, my boss’s boss. We’re in Denver, Colorado. Dave and I are eating dinner. Dave is asking me if the fact that we just lost two sales reps responsible for millions in revenue is indicative of a broader morale problem in the company. I resist the urge to tell him that the real problem with the company is that “Do More With Less” is a fucking bullet-point in the ToC of the Official Management Document of two weeks ago, that the morale problem stems from the fact that this is now officially enshrined in company policy. I do tell him that I think the phrase is an “insidious piece of shit phrase.” He agrees. Thing is, I believe him. Thing is, I also know he’ll do his job.

Dave and I are walking down the street from a restaurant to a strip club with a woman Dave convinces to show us her tits. I don’t understand what’s happening. but you can smoke in the strip club, so that’s a thing. The woman who brought us there goes and gets a lap dance. Dave leaves. I finish my cigarette and leave, too.

She had seated herself next to Dave during our dinner, and probably done the most obvious “I’m in the mood, fellas” schtick I’ve ever seen. At one point, the other woman, seated to my right and an ex-con, brought back a hick who I had argued with earlier about the stool I was saving for my boss. It was odd and it had almost come to theoretical blows, except you could tell the 60-something pretty-overweight dude from Oklahoma named Pat didn’t really want to fight me. Later, he would call us “faggots” to the woman we were at the bar with. She would tell us a few minutes after he left, and we would be like, “That’s weird.” And maybe that would kind of just be all of Colorado.

***

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