Riding the Single Chair: Confessions of The Unsociable

Single Chair The UnSociable

Last week I wrote about Robespierre, The Incorruptible (Ruminations…01.03.12). This week, it’s Me, The Unsociable.

Riding the Single Chair…sounds like it could be either a Zen kōan or something from Vātsyāyana’s Kama Sutra, don’t you think? I do. But here I’m referring to something else entirely, something completely unrelated. Then again, you know what Walker Percy said: “Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected.”

I’m up in Vermont. Yes, it’s very cold, snow everywhere, wind chills, icy roads, etc….I know what you’re thinking, me too: Heaven. Last night, I did a reading in Burlington with some other Fomite Press authors.* Interesting and good fun. My other pleasure has been down at Mad River Glen. You know the place – Ski It If You Can. And if you don’t know the place, you know the bumper sticker – the red and white one with the subliminal message that you best bring your Red Cross card along with that fist pump and your skis.

Now, Mad River has a single chair lift. And I don’t mean it has only one chair lift, I mean it has a lift for single rides only. No doubling up,…one chair, one fanny. Step into the lane, lower that Patagonian tush into the seat and hunker down for the 2000 ft. vertical ascent up General Stark Mountain.

Go, Go Go Gooooo!…Ride It If You Can.

Well, I can, I do, and I like it. Particularly, when I am skiing alone.

I sit there like an old frozen owl, cold fingers huddled into a warm fist inside my gloves, admiring my ski tips, humming tunes from The Sound of Music, and picturing the lurid interior lives of the skiers below me. Hell, I can even pass wind in my one-piece ski suit without a worry in the world. No one in this chair but me, myself, and I.

It’s like having your own private park bench. I swear I can smell the linseed oil. The chairs are painted a lovely shade of municipal green, the open slats coddle your back like an old friend, and even the pan-head bolts holding your seat to that slim single pole are disguised beneath layers of high gloss; you’d never know if one or two were missing. I tell you it beats a double chair any day, anywhere.

Ugh, the Double…social engineering of the worst kind. Who is that character rubbing thighs with you, and why is it never an interesting woman? At least on a crowded Red-eye flight you can excuse yourself and jam the lock in the bathroom. C’mon, you think, lighten up, be sociable. Besides, it’s too long a ride to wonder if this guy really is reading your mind. Talk weather, snow conditions, the fog in your goggles, boot inserts, anything to keep the gab going right up to the last tower. On a chair lift, a drought in the chitchat becomes an awkward silence fast. Time can really slow down, and I mean really slow down.

Then there’s the Triple Chair. Usually, a threesome has an appealing ring to it. Not in this case. Nope, now you have not just one, but two unsolicited interlocutors to appease. And don’t waste too much time pondering where to begin with them. If you wait too long for your entrée, they’re likely to ignore you and start talking to each other. It won’t take long before the paranoia starts drenching your thermal underwear like fast-melting snow, particularly if you have the middle seat.

Last and surely least, we have The Quad. Here, you ride with a veritable crowd of strangers – each one, you imagine, stranger than the next. And it’s a tight squeeze; there’s not even enough room in this chair for its full name. Furthermore, it moves with unnatural speed. Feeding the Beast. It throws skiers up the mountain faster than anyone could possibly ski down, even faster than that crazy-eyed stoner with the jolly roger snowboard. You know who I mean…the guy who slips under the safety bar and drops, yahooing like a…well, Yahoo, thirty feet into the powder before the unloading station is even in sight. You’re shaking the rest of the way to the top, and not just because he took one of your gloves with him.

That’s it. I could go into the few “6-packers” and the even more rare 8-seater at Portes du Soleil. But why bother…after the Quad, it’s pure anarchy. Don’t even risk it. It’s probably a good thing that ski lifts move indoors from this point on – Gondolas and Trams. Of course, they’re a whole different story: the clatter and danger of sharp-edged skis slicing at your face like Edward Scissorshand, the dull constant robotic clunk of ski boots sending the lift into an ominous sway, and the unexpected taste of tongue-tearing frozen metal. But, these and the other poetics of a ski lift’s cold and unforgiving interiority must wait for another time.

For our purposes, I say if you have the chance, head for Mad River. Ride the Single Chair, the fastest fixed-grip in the United States. So what if you’re dangling from that cable alone. Even if that “fixed-grip” let’s go over an icy granite outcropping, at least, on the way down, you won’t embarrass yourself in front of company.

Oh, and getting back to its connective tissue with Zen kōans and The Kama Sutra, I’m coming up kind of empty. Maybe Transcendence from Immanent Acts?…Ride It If You Can.

* Jack Pulaski (Love’s Labours), Antonello Borra (AlphaBestiario), and Delia Robinson (The art of AlphaBestiario)

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