It was an innocuous question under ordinary circumstances, but this time the answer could not have been more poignant.
“Are you almost ready for the season?”
You have no idea.
A LONG EXPECTED PARTY
It was a gorgeous fall night, and my birthday party was in full swing.
I throw a birthday party like a hobbit throws a birthday party, right down to the sign on the front door that reads NO ADMITTANCE EXCEPT ON PARTY BUSINESS. I served about six of my friends a Moroccan swordfish stew over couscous that would have garnered a five out of five from Gordon Ramsay himself while a pair of my friends brought a homemade Italian rum cake that was indistinguishable from one made in Perugia, right down to the peach compote filling and ricotta cheese frosting. Smashing!
For entertainment, few things beat a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, (Q: What are they teaching kids in school these days? A: SKELETOR! 🙂 and later we screened a Phish concert on my 65 inches of Hi-Def goodness, with the Klipsch tower speakers reproducing every Trey Anastasio solo with crystalline perfection. There was dancing and light and music; the joint was jumpin’.
But things really went over the top when an even larger contingent of my ski club invaded.
My ski club is awesome. When I was in the hospital this summer, they sent me a get well card. They keep everyone connected during the off-season with happy hours, bonfires, countless athletic activities, and general good spirits and camaraderie all around. And on that night, they brought cookies and beer and even a birthday card that read, “Fun at parties, makes people feel at ease, gets better with age: are you sure you’re not whiskey?”
Of course not; I’m tequila. But the sentiment’s the same.
Oh…and on this particular occasion, they also brought the shotski.
“You can have lemoncello or maple bourbon, Jay!” they puttered excitedly, clearly excited to try to send me WAY…FAR…DOWN!
So shoot me, I’d never seen a shotski in 50 years of skiing. (I’ll pause while you clean the spit-up coffee off your laptop.) Sad, but true. First world problem, for sure.
“You don’t spend enough time in ski town bars,” my smirking best mate/wingman for both skiing and golf noted magisterically. He’s right of course. My idea of apres is a jacuzzi – preferably with a beautiful woman and a Tres Generaciones neat. (Hello…Carolyn?) Besides, at bars, frequently “apres” turns out to be French for “Dance of the Sand Crabs,” complete with brahs in bad beards and worse man buns metaphorically comparing claw sizes while trying to sweet talk their way into one night stands. HARD PASS.
Thankfully, I did not go WAY…FAR…DOWN! (This Italian can handle two shots of lemoncello). But as the shotski made its way around the room I sidled up to a seat with my club president. He smiled and pointed to a corner of my kitchen, right next to the table where we sitting. Standing sentinel against the wall, stern and stoic as a Beefeater, were my Head iRallys, freshly waxed and sharpened by the experts at nearby Greek Peak. My Nordica boots were neatly tucked next to them, gloves and hat inside one boot, helmet with goggles atop the other. Blue snow pants were folded in a pile on top, and my surprisingly hip ski jacket, featuring skulls all over it hung jauntily off the top of one ski. Next to all sat a blue plastic cooler and a lone can of Royal Crown cola.
“Are you almost ready for the season?” our president asked, pointing at my gear.
And at that moment a switch inside me flipped. I could feel the excitement, long dormant, rise like storm. How would Tolkien have put it? From the ashes a fire had woken, a light from the darkness did spring.
“Oh no,” I replied. “I’m ready now. Right this minute.”
BAD LUCK IN THREES (OR IN MY CASE, SIX…)
Let me tell you what I’ve endured this long, cruel off season. I had three – count ’em three – invasive kidney stone operations to try and remove a stone 40 millimeters in size.
That’s right: 40 millimeters. Not four, not 14…40. Deep inside the furthest recesses of my kidney was a stone the size of a golf ball. A GOLF BALL. The bastard might have well said “Titleist” on it, and who knows? Knowing my luck, maybe it did.
Do you know how they get kidney stones out in those situations?! They took a laser attached to a camera, a 13-inch stent, and a light, and they shoved it inside me. You get one guess where…
Think medieval torture.
They snaked that contraption through my…unmentionable…into my bladder, up a narrow tube called a ureter that connects the bladder to the kidney, and into the nephrons of the kidney itself, where they played Asteroids for 90 minutes.
“It was like trying to work in a snow globe,” recalled Dr. Welchons after operation number one. “The minute we hit it with the laser, it was a blizzard in there.”
The stone was so large, the laser began to run out of energy. Good thing: the insides of both my kidney and ureter were going to be extra sore from the long procedure. But they hadn’t finished, so they left the stent inside me. It would remain for six weeks, until the next procedure to finish the job…we hoped. There would be pain, they warned me, and they offered me a prescription for Percocet, which I turned down. “I don’t need no steenking Perc!” I thought, as they released me at 3:00 in the afternoon.
I’ve rarely ever been so horribly, horribly wrong.
The pain was so excruciating, so debilitating, I was ambulanced right back to the hospital by 8am the next morning, screaming for morphine. When I say I begged for morphine, that’s not just Jay hyperbole. The needle was as long as my arm, and yet there I was almost slavering over it. “YEAH! GIVE IT TO ME!”
Here’s what acute kidney stone pain feels like – it comes in three stages. First, a knife stabs you deep inside your side, and then rips you all the way down from kidney to bladder. RRRRRRRRRRIPS!!!!! You shriek in agony, a long lingering cry that echoes off the walls and throughout the hall, but that’s only the beginning. Next, your bladder feels like it’s crumpling; cramps drive you to your knees as another moan escapes your exhausted lips. But then comes the final, cruel insult. It feels like a vice suddenly grabs your testicle…and doesn’t let go, sometimes for hours at a time.
This recurs every time you take a whizz. So for six long, terrible weeks Jason Voorhees hid behind every bathroom door waiting to fillet me yet again.
And try playing golf like that! Ha! Just try! My wingman, who I routinely give six shots a round, beat me straight up both days. Shocking. Positively shocking…
I had to go through three of those operations. I was awake for the last one; the one where they pulled the stent out with what looked like a fishhook.
And yet that was only the beginning of my Summer from Hell.
Five days after they finally took the stent out of me, I found not one, but two dark brown deer ticks embedded in my skin.
And so began my battle with a particularly debilitating strain of Lyme Disease. The first wave hit me at a pizza joint, the famous Lukin’s in fact. Dizzyness, vertigo, nausea, loss of balance. I tried to drive home, but only made it halfway. I pulled into a gas station, climbed into the back seat and called an ambulance.
They pulled me out of the back seat 20 minutes later semi-conscious and vomiting. I threw up on the poor paramedic’s Steve Maddens. (Sorry, guy!) Weeks of more doctors appointments followed, muddied by modern medicine’s struggle to keep up with the more aggressive strains of tick-related Lyme-like illnesses. Unlike Type 1 Lyme Disease – “give ’em some Doxycillin and hope for the best” – my more advanced strain is atypical. There’s no target shaped rash or joint pain. Instead, seemingly out of nowhere with no rhyme or reason, waves of dizziness, then vertigo overtake you. You can’t walk straight. You can’t even sit up. Then you barf for ten minutes straight. It seems a similar strain as the one that plagued golfer Jimmy Walker so ferociously before it was properly diagnosed.
Happily, over time my symptoms have become somewhat less severe and less frequent, but as kids these days say, “the struggle is real.” It still sometimes still hits me with no warning, knocking me off my feet for anywhere from 20 minutes to two or three hours.
Now remember I said bad luck comes threes? All of that felt like a Swedish massage to what came next. We almost lost my Mom twice since Memorial Day. Her frail, failing physical condition is made far worse by her advanced Alzheimer’s. It’s too painful right now and would take far too long to commit to paper the heartache and exhaustion, so I’ll trust to your sympathy and empathy, and pray some one cares for me when it comes my turn, as I tried to for Mom.
THE SMOLDERING FIRE
So as the Summer from Hell, bled into the Autumn from Purgatory, and winter heralded its imminent arrival with an icy blast, I can earnestly say I’ve had enough: I’ve had enough doctors and hospitals and medicines, I’ve had enough of sickness and fear and worry, I’ve had enough of crippling physical pain, and worse still I’ve had enough of crushing emotional pain.
Moreover, I’m tired of arguments and politics. I’m through with supply shortages and runaway prices. I’m over getting shivers with every paper delivered. Bad news on the doorstep? Well, I won’t take one more step…at masking my contempt for it.
Still, the way I choose to handle adversity has not changed: be the best damn go-to, cope-a-scetic problem solver who – yet again! – turns “TOTALLY FUBAR!” into “absolute perfection” right freaking now…make every deadline, crush every article, put a bow on the law office work.
You’re welcome, world.
So I’ve earned this ski season. And now I’m twice as motivated.
Am I almost ready? No, I told my president, I’m ready right now. RIGHT THIS SECOND. If you were to say to me “Drop what you’re doing and get in the car,” the only thing left to do (besides getting dressed…) would be to grab the perishables out of the refrigerator and put them in the cooler. I’m ready, let’s do this, right now, Come on, Old Man Winter, I’m waiting. Sit your big ol’ frozen rump down the northeast right now, and fart us a monster blizzard.
To a skier, every snow storm is a party. And I’m ready to rage.
Beware: I’m coming for you, Face Chutes at Jay Peak. You too, Castlerock Chair at Sugarbush. Slides at Whiteface, Avalanche and Hardscrabble at Cannon, Goat at Stowe, summit cone of Sugarloaf…dadgum it! I’m coming for you Sun Freaking Valley, and I’ll take Bogus Basin and Soldier as a ***BONUS!***
Oh…and I’m coming, Tuckerman’s.
Oh yeah, I’m ready for the season. You won’t have to ask me twice. I’m so hungry for it, I could eat a ski pole, (especially if it was slathered in JB’s Best Hot Sauce…When it says JB’s, it’s the best!).
And I come to shred. I come to shred madly and relentlessly…over and over and over again. The real question is whether the mountain is ready for me.
The club president smiled at me as I answered his question, with every loving detail I just wrote to you, Dear Reader. Ever observant, he pointed again at my gear.
“The can of RC? How come it’s sitting out like that and not in your cooler?”
“Ah!” I responded, “That’s a riff on a tradition I picked up from the Tibetans…”
His brow furrowed for a moment, looking curious. I took that as a compliment, for he is a well-traveled and sophisticated man. “What tradition is that?” he asked, so I told him:
When a dear friend departs loved ones in Tibet, they lay out a cup of butter tea on the windowsill, but never touch again until the loved one returns. Similarly, as a totenistic homage, (and because I don’t like the taste of butter tea) I put that can of RC by my gear on the last day of the season.
And there it sits, awaiting my return. It won’t be long now…