The cop looked in the dumpster and noticed a picture of his wife. He had just received a complaint from the Olympic Sports store that someone had dumped bags of garbage in their dumpster. That someone was me. I’d cleaned out a few drawers of hometown memories that morning, – high school notebooks, graduation pictures, diplomas, clippings and headed into what I thought was a free-for-all dumpster tucked behind a strip mall. After I threw the bags into the dumpster I took a walk with the dog and when I returned to my car I was met by the policeman and the assistant manager of the Olympic Sports store. Continue reading
I could blame cabin fever but I won’t. We got 2 feet of fresh powder last night. I shoveled the driveway and headed into Middlebury to return a video. I spotted a sign- “Ski Sale, fund raiser. 65% off!” I have not skied since 1977. I haven’t come close to skiing since 1977, but I followed the signs and ended up in a conference room at the Marriott. Looked like all new stuff to me. I’d assumed the Ski Sale was used merchandise. No, just a couple of shmucks from Long Island trying to make a buck or two. They gave a percentage of sales to a student scholarship fund which enabled them to suggest a bargain.
Dr. Casey, when in the presence of a salesman in a small room loses her self control and self-esteem. Watching people try to make money makes me feel sorry for them. They’re doing you a great service, after all. Fitting the boot properly takes a professional, offering you a couple of ski tips, an added bonus. “I taught skiing at Killington for twenty seven years” said the salesman. “I make certain that every boot and every ski that I sell is exactly what you need. Being that you are beginning again after all these years, this is crucial. Good equipment can save your life.”
I bought the ski package. With my dog and two bags of groceries in the car, I simply drove the fifteen miles to the mountain and bought an afternoon pass. I was wearing pajama bottoms. I did not have a coat or parka, so I went to the lost and found and asked if I could borrow one. They gave me a mammoth apricot parka made for a lumberjack. I scrounged around the car for socks and hat and gloves, mismatched but clean.
Besides not skiing, I hadn’t done much of anything since 1977, when I decided that I was a singer, an actress, a performance artist, an artsy kind of person. Skiing, more than other pleasant physical pastimes like sex or swimming, was an expensive, inconvenient sport with too many variables. Weather, topography, crowds, driving conditions, seasonal limitations. I was never passionate about skiing and never very good at it, like my Vermonter friends, but for some reason, the sport invaded my subconscious.
I had been dreaming about skiing for quite awhile, and not only when I visited Vermont. In Florida or New York City or Louisiana, in the desert, on the ocean, through the years, a ski dream repeated itself: a beautiful day on a white mountain. Quiet. Snow falling. I am skiing down the hill. I am flying, I am open, I am strong. The cold, the wind, the white. I am free. I’m breathing deep and full and the inside of my body rinses out clean and the inside of my throat opens like it did when I started singing, before I equated singing with smoky dives and shit-hole apartments.
Friends say to me often, “Oh, if I could sing like you do!!” Then they start singing off-key to the radio, having a blast at it, a big laugh over it, life becomes one continuous Kareoke party. “Oh, I’m so terrible!” they groan, delighted, secure in their own talents–as mortgage broker, real estate salesman, landscape architect, hair stylist, baker: with paychecks.
They still have plenty of time left to do their “art” whatever it is. The difference: They do not build a funeral pyre with their lives for the sake of art. They do not flush themselves down the talent toilet, superior in their resolve to be what God intended, no matter the cost. I see them driving their Jeeps with ski-racks through town, rosy cheeked, en route to work or an oil painting class. They aren’t miserable because they can’t sing. They can live without it.
The ski package was $500. For $500 you can buy 100 head shots, or 2 photo shoots, or 3 hours in a recording studio, or pay a pianist and bassist for a three hour gig, or have 10 songs transposed into the correct key, or take 6 voice lessons or 10 acting lessons. You can rent 8 hours of New York rehearsal space, press and package 100 CD’s, publish 1/3rd of your own book, pay 1/4 the cost of joining Equity and Screen Actors Guild, buy plane fare to Los Angeles, one way.
I skied all afternoon. It was a beautiful day, a weekday, not many people. Sunny, new snow weighing heavy on the evergreens, the maples like shining crystal candelabras. No wind.
I was a lousy skier thirty five years ago. Due to major improvements in skis and boots, it’s much easier to be a lousy skier now. With the higher boots and round tipped skis, it is almost impossible to fall down. I was bent up like a downhill racer until somebody on the slope said, “Lady, you don’t have to do that anymore. Just stand up and ski. Turn the skis the way you want to go. ” I stood up and turned the skis where I wanted to go and the skis just went there and I followed.
It was a wonderful, simple day. I was doing something that other people were doing, and we were all doing it for its own sake and it was simply a day of life. Up the hill, down the hill. Up the hill, down the hill. Flying free in whiteness, like a dream. It seemed to soften the sharp edges I’d carved into my youth and middle years. Years of moving from city to city, gig to gig, this rehearsal, that show, another audition, too young for the part, too old for the part. Money, never enough for a frivality, like skiing, but plenty to burn away on head shots, false starts, half-baked dreams, classes and more classes, this city, that idea, those plans. Without a lucky break, it was beginning to look like I was out of luck. So hell, why not buy some skis?
After thirty years, I bought skis and drove up to a mountain and put the skis on. I heaved my aching, reluctant body toward the chair lift. I skied. It was white and silent. I was happy and when I got home I made a cup of hot chocolate instead of coffee.
Will the ski dream continue or has its purpose been fulfilled? Can I guess at it’s meaning? I have to sleep on it. Talk to you tomorrow. -Laurel
Surely you know a person who needs help. Why not offer them a gift that keeps on giving? Enlightenment. Send your damaged friend to the Nameless Top-Secret Writers/Yoga Vermont Retreat. They”ll be forever in your debt. Certainly you say that you care about your friend but actions speak louder than words. So does money. Call your depressed, lazy, self-obsessed friend today and tell them to expect a miracle. They’re expecting one anyway.
For a mere 1,000 dollars a day (sliding scale available for artists) you can completely unlodge your writers block, lose weight and become enlightened. 100 percent money back guarantee. Private chef, maid service, manuscript toning, metaphysical experiences, meditation hikes, organic booze, electric blankets, large library, private, isolated cabin. No telephone, internet, no cell phone service, no TV, no radio, no transportation. One on one Ashtanga Yoga sessions. Psychological counseling. Hashish. Cash transactions only. Minimum stay: one week.
Pictured above: Buddhist Monk arrives for winter retreat at Camp Casey. He smokes, he drinks coffee, he reads, he sleeps, he thinks, he thinks some more, he sits at a desk and sketches little pictures that resemble kites in a black book. He eats, he makes hot chocolate, he sleeps, he thinks, he sews a button on his coat, he smokes, he smokes hash, he smokes cigarettes, he is always shoveling something into his mouth or down his throat. Anything but alcohol. Anything. Keep the Voo-Doo Vodka Devil away from my door! He owns one pair of pants and one shirt. He is penniless, and yet I have witnessed him give a bum on the street his last dollar and his last cigarette. He has taken me one step closer to enlightenment. Slowly, through the years I have come understand his thought process. He is living without a safety net, beyond the bounds of social acceptability. You know, that two step that the rest of us do in order to fit in? Or at least fit in as misfits, artists, wierdos, etc. We all pretend to be independent of societal pressures, but we march to different drummers in a very straight line. Do you know how straight YOUR line is? Let me tell you about my line. It is now laced with Adderol. I am severely ADHD. Look it up if you have to. It has destroyed my life. so far. Things are going to change very rapidly now that I know what the matter is. I remember the I.Q. test I took when I was twelve. My score was 81. Below retarded. I believed it. My teacher believed it. My parents believed it. My boyfriend believed it. Idiots. The score was 181. Watch out, world, here I come…………….
Standing in line at a Vermont health food store between two people. Man and woman. Both buying health food, looking healthy, but not smiling. The woman chatting it up with the hippie cashier, a ramble of gab, a garble of sentences about the weather, the price of coffee, – full force chattering while her goods are bagged. Her teeth are large, so it almost looks like she’s smiling as she talks, but the sides of her face are not moving, and her middle aged lines are not crinkling. Impeccably dressed in L.L. Bean, her winter skin, pale and flaky, she exudes a forced internal energy that seems to infuse her check-out activity with deep meaning. This shopping expedition seems critical to her self image. Her organic goods sacred, she shovels them closer to the cashier with a chilling sobriety.
Behind me, the man, also middle-aged with the steely thin frame of a mountain climber or jockey. Salt and pepper beard, scruffy hair. He is not smiling either, and why should he? He is standing in line waiting. Nobody likes to wait. I turn to him and smile. I am very close to him, my face about three feet from his. His eyes instantly divert, avoiding mine, and he stares past me, earnestly studying nothing, holding several plastic bags of nuts to his breast. I continue to stare and smile. I said “hello” No response. “Hello” again. I waved my hand in front of his face.
He looked at me with confusion, as though he should know my name, and when he did not, he froze, waiting for me to explain myself.
“I’m just saying hello” I said.
“Oh.” He seemed baffled and slightly sad, as though I were playing a trick on him.
It seemed I had broken protocol. I’d been away from Vermont for a couple of months and had stood in several grocery lines in Washington D.C. where I smiled and said hello to just about everyone who was standing behind me and they all smiled and hello back. The people in Washington D.C. could detect the simple twist of my head in their direction. They would automatically acknowledge it with a nod, a blink, a raised eyebrow, the sides of their mouth turning up as the muscles in their face reacted spontaneously to the presence of a fellow human being. (Vermonters, like my Great Aunt Sallie McKnight (1876-1920) seem more comfortable with a downward turn of the mouth .
This natural impulse, acknowledgement, has little meaning until it is not forthcoming. The man forced a grin and tried to save face. “Oh, of course, hello”
“Hello” I repeated, louder.
“Well, yes, hello!” he chucked.
Strange. A woman in a grocery store, standing in front of him at the check-out smiling at him and saying hello for no good reason. What could she want?
His forced smile was fleeting, his voice terse, and a shadow of panic crossed his face. His eyes widened, his pupils dilated as he prepared himself for a shopping line conversation. But what could he say? He couldn’t think of a thing.
“Why doesn’t anybody say hello in Vermont?” I asked.
“I mean” and I turned to the woman in front of me, “I mean, why don’t people in Vermont say hello or smile at each other?”
“We certainly do say hello and smile” she said, not smiling.
“You didn’t smile at ME” I said.
“I didn’t see you.” That may have been true and I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
“I’m busy bagging my groceries here” she said.
I had overstepped, offending the cashier, the man and the woman, with an unthinkable premise: People in Vermont were not as friendly as they were supposed to be. Especially in a health food store, where those bonded by the common cause of a greener planet sought out like minds. A tribe of vegetarian cannibals, united gastronomically, their innards churning up the same organic roughage.
I couldn’t back down.
“I’ve been in Washington D.C. for two months, and everybody smiles at everybody else in the grocery lines. They smile and then they say hello.”
The cashier, not smiling, said “Well, everybody says hello and smiles at me”
“That’s because you’re the cashier” I answered.
“Well, hello, then” hissed the woman, a hard smile stretching over her big teeth, her eyeballs trembling like black, boiling peas. “And, good-bye.”
“Hello, hello hello.” Sing-songed the hippie cashier, throttling my grocery items as she rang them up, heaving them violently toward the stack of paper bags.
I turned, once again, to the man behind me. He wasn’t smiling.