Okay, I've got a confession to make. Last season, most of my best ski days were spent with women. Other women. Women who are not my wife. These women taught me things. About myself. About skiing. About life.
"Um, I dropped my battery," she said to me. She works for a ski area -- we'll just call her "A". "Down there." I looked down. The digital camera battery had landed in the middle of a trail dressed with first-thing-in-the-morning ceramic coral that made the Great Barrier Reef look like packed powder.
Yes, we were in the afterglow of our first ecstatic run of the morning -- an empty mountain, virgin corduroy, a bare minimum of turns. But I wasn't so blissed out that I couldn't see what I was I was in for. If A were a guy, I would have said, "Fuggedaboudit." (For that matter, if A were a guy, he probably wouldn't have even mentioned it at all, deciding, rightfully, that saving face was worth more than a $100 battery.)
But such is the power of estrogen. Tapping into the chivalrous impulse that starts every sword fight in every Shakespeare play, I said. "Um, sure we'll go down and fetch it." Am I going to tell you how I found nirvana in this china shop of death cookies and frozen chicken heads? No. It sucked. And it didn't massage the male ego that first got me into this mess to see her bounce perkily through the refrozen funk like it was a foot of freshies. But we did find the battery.
"And she thought she was pregnant...."
"No, really, so she told him."
I was the proverbial fly on the wall, except that chairlifts don't have walls, and I don't have 38 eyes and a life span of three days. These three young ladies were engaging in hardcore gossip, completely oblivious to my presence. I'm transported to one of the juicy chapters of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, the green room at Rikki Lake. I'm in the powder room dishin' with the sistas. I half expected that when we disembarked from the lift -- they were going to shout, "You go, girl!" in three-part harmony.
Guys, you see, use chairlift rides to reset their altimeter watches. They worry about boot canting, ("Dude, do you think my knee's out of alignment?"), brag about the way their high-performance bindings eliminate that annoying dead spot underfoot. Or they say, "How about them Lakers?"
Of course, this peek into girl talk is all a grand illusion. I remember the time I told my wife that my cousin was talking about buying a new house. She said, "Oh, yeah I knew that." She then proceeded to tell me how my cousin -- whom she had known for all of 20 minutes -- made her husband get a vasectomy and how the working portion of his privates is even more crooked than Bill Clinton's. Then, of course, I started wondering what my cousin knows about me.
As the chair approached the top, I was hoping to find out what the boyfriend said. But their sweet smiles told me that I was never going to know. They glanced at each other and invited me to take the first turn. They did not shout, "You go girl!"
"C'mon, one more traverse."
I'm used to taking orders from her -- a writer friend I'll call "E" -- because once upon a time she was my boss. But then the instructions were always about writing a punchier headline ("I don't think the readers are going to get the Kant reference"). As soon as I snuck through the band of rocks, I realized that my physical well-being was at stake. This last traverse led to a slope of NASDAQ-on-a-bad-day steepness and as much vertical between me and the next catwalk as some entire resorts I've skied. As I was getting up my nerve -- and trying to remember if my orthopedic surgeon was on my new health insurance plan -- she dove into her first turn. She bounced down the pitch, floating like a butterfly, her skis barely contacting the snow.
I watched with something like awe. What I accomplish with brute strenggth, she, who weighs less than some sandwiches I've eaten, accomplishes through delicate negotiations with gravity. My final conceit about my skiing -- that if I could only squat 300 pounds, I could ski this kind of terrain with élan -- was gone. Stripped bare, epistemologically speaking, and I tried to emulate her. And yes, I increased my on-snow grace quotient from that of a dying water buffalo to that of a yearling yak. No, I can't follow all the curves yet, but at least I have a road map.
"It's snowing harder," she said softly, as she seemed to move imperceptibly closer to me. The double chair was appropriately narrow and deliciously slow, and the first flakes of blizzard added to the air of electricity. And yet the forest didn't smell of pine or wood smoke or even diesel oil. It smelled of her. As I tried to peer through those amber goggle lenses and make contact with a pair of brown eyes so animated they would leave Van Morrison speechless, my mind moved on. On to breath mints, Barry White records, and pointing to the remains of cafeteria hamburger and saying, "You gonna eat that?" Most of all, I wondered if she was thinking about the same thing.
We didn't say much of anything. It was too cold. The pheromones were talking loudly enough for both of us. I rewound to that last run, the one where I let her have first tracks just so I could watch. I imagined what she had on underneath those pink shell pants. Jockey? Victoria's Secret? Nothing but polypro? I bit my lip. Hard. And still my mind raced headlong into a scene from Dynasty, a fireplace, a bearskin rug, and Gore-Tex strewn about the living room....
Okay, dear readers, I cheated. Not all of these women are friends, acquaintances, business associates. One of them, I must confess, is my wife. I'll leave it to you to guess which one.