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The Padded Brawl


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Somehow, I lost the assignment for this piece. I can’t remember if they wanted me to write about my best skiing moments or my worst. Hell, let’s go with worst. Much more fun.

Was it in fifth grade when the nuns would make us tie our lace boots and zip our parkas before we started up Berthoud Pass, leaving us all bathing in sweat? Phil Simpson threw up shortly thereafter, and the driver wouldn’t let us open the windows. Maybe it was the day I wore jeans skiing, ending up with two frozen cannons for legs, then forgot to put the pants in a dryer that night and had to be lowered into them the next morning.

No, the Truly Worst Moment in my skiing career so far has got to be the infamous Padded Brawl.

It began one noon just after we’d accomplished the single hardest feat in all of skiing—harder even than Kitzbühel—securing a lunch table at Sunspot, the top-of-the-mountain restaurant at Winter Park.

People would sooner ski Des Moines than go to Winter Park and not eat at Sunspot, so your battalion must have a plan ready to get a table. You must send out all members of your 10-person party to 10 different parts of the lunchroom, ready to leap upon a group that so much as hints they’re about to leave. You must pounce on that table the way Rush Limbaugh pounces on a press buffet. If the people say, “Yes, we are leaving,” and not, “No, I was simply adjusting my boxer crawl and am sitting back down now,” then you must immediately strip, putting one article of clothing on each chair, all the while waving like a lunatic to the rest of the scouts.

In this way, we got our table, politely, of course, and now we were the hunted. Stack a plate on top of another and three people arrive to ask if you’re leaving. Zip a coat pocket shut, open a map, take out a Twix bar and you’re besieged by, “Are you guys going?” As I say, the whole thing is done politely—”Oh, no problem!” and “Take your time!”—except for this particular day when we were plagued by a jerk in a red coat who I will naturally call Mr. Nebraska.

“Are you about to leave?” Nebraska asked as we were applying the first dabs of ketchup to our burgers.

“Will you guys be leaving soon?” he pestered as we were halfway through our beers.

“When are you guys going?” he whined five minutes later.

The man wouldn’t leave. He just stood there, watching our digestive systems work. When my bulky buddy, Skybox, got up to take a leak, the jerk sat down in his chair. The nerve!

“Uh, sir?” I said, “That’s my friend’s seat. He’s coming back.”

“I know. I don’t care,” Nebraska said.

“You will,” I said, “When you see how big he is.”

“Doesn’t scare me,” he said.

“Get out of the chair,” I said.

Nebraska got up. “Well, when are you gonna leave?”

“When we’re ready, pal,” I said. “And not before.”

He stood and watched us eat our Twix bars. And let’s get this straight, there is just no damn way in the world to enjoy your Twix bar when a person is watching you. I imagine it’s like performing sex on stage. You might be able to complete the act, but not so you’d really enjoy it. My wife was getting mad. Skybox’s wife was getting mad. The kids were bugging.

“Let’s just go,” my wife finally whispered, annoyed.

Now, there’s one thing you should know about a Reilly. When challenged, we are just slightly more stubborn than Oaxacan mules. Our family crest is a bloody hand, representative of the time our Irish forefather cut off his own hand and threw it from a boat to a beach in order to become the first family to “touch” the land and thus own it. I wouldn’t have let anybody leave now if they’d had a court order.

“No,” I whispered doggedly. “We’re not rushing just because this guy has no manners.”Of course, when my wife threw up her hands and said, “Oh, let’s just go and let him have it,” everybody naturally got up and started to go. Hey, a battalion has to have a commander.

But was she steaming. You could’ve wokked vegetables on her forehead. “Sir,” she snapped, eyes squinting at him, “I hope nobody ever treats your family the way you’ve treated ours.”

And Nebraska replied, simply, “Bitch.”

What happened next was really so easy. I wheeled on Nebraska and gave him two glove-covered fists at once in each shoulder, causing him to topple backward over an empty chair like a stuffed animal knocked over by a carnival softball. His feet went flying up in the air like a can-can girl’s. I can still see his eyes as I leaned over him in his helpless position and began popping him with my gloved fists. Guy had no leverage, no way to roll out of it, no chance. It was totally unfair, of course, but I don’t think it hurt much. Ever been hit with a big, fluffy, padded glove? Besides, I only got in two punches when my son pulled me off him and we made haste out of there.

Hey, anybody need a table?

I still don’t think they had to call the ski patrol. Not that it mattered. As the six of them were coming in, hollering on their radios, “Code Red! We’ve got a Code Red!” we were walking out, right past them, rubbernecking backward, as though we were as curious as everybody else to know what all the excitement was about.

Just then we saw Skybox, finally emerging from his ill-timed leak. I grabbed him and dragged him toward the door.

“But, wait…” he stammered. “What about my Twix?”