Monday, January 25, 2010

Suburbs of Our Discontent

The fact that I live in New England and don’t ski makes me kind of a freak.

Many years ago I tried skiing with my college roommate (who’s a great skier). She was so excited by my progress on the bunny slope that she convinced me to get on a chairlift. Big mistake. I flung myself off the lift and wiped out at the top of the hill. I shimmied to the side and stared, paralyzed, at the Valley of Death that lay before me.

My roommate skied down a few times, offering encouragement and begging forgiveness. People tried to coax me down as if I were some crazed cat in a tree. First I rejected offers of help, but eventually I conceded. Some instructors tried to teach me how to snowplow down the thing, but eventually they just took my skis and poles and left me to walk down. Passing skiers brought news of my progress to my roommate, who became too wracked with guilt to go down again. Down at the lodge she became known as the girl who left her friend on the slope.

This is the kind of slap-stick humor that Shakespeare associates with people who have laughably high aspirations. People who attempt to abandon their social class and do something more high falutin’. People who spend hundreds of dollars on ski rentals so that they’re not the only ones in their fancy neighborhood who don’t do this fancy sport. In Shakespeare, there's the “rude mechanicals” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream who perform the ridiculous The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe at the Duke’s wedding. More painful is the drunk beggar Christopher Sly in the prologue to The Taming of the Shrew who’s duped by rich people into thinking he’s a Lord and then tricked into fondling his beautiful “wife” (a cross-dressed page boy).

This is all to say that there was a lot at stake in the family ski trip we just took. After some lessons on the bunny slope, I forced myself to contemplate the chair lift. I looked at it for a long time. When I saw a blind person go down (and a paraplegic skier), I shuffled my way to the line. I managed, awkwardly, to ski down.

But my children, bless them, had a very different experience. After two days of camp, they can ski! They’ve made it!

We’re still not the cute ski family I so aspire to become. I still suck. On my second attempt at the lift, I spastically shoved my daughter to the ground while trying to get on with her (“Stop the lift! Stop the lift!”) and then went down the hill at a shaky snail’s pace. My daughter raced ahead and waited patiently for me at the bottom. Then she glided away to try it again. Understandably, by herself.

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