Fat men in Speedos, Dylan Thomas and Ski No More, My Darlin'


The wife is stuck in Detroit, visiting kds with her mom. They were to fly out tonight, Sunday, but no deal. Massive snowstorm. Where are the fat ruddy guys in their abbreviated swimsuits standing around some ice-hole in Jesus Freezus, ND? The Polar Bear Club in NY swam at Coney Island a couple days ago in 41 degree water. Sounds almost warm. Women in bikinis. Plenty of guys, but no Speedos that I saw. 2,500 people made the splash. And that's all the enthusiasm I can dredge up for that.

Dylan Thomas is more like it. Poet-genius. His words, the way he coupled them and played them, are magical. He died too soon, as we like to say, but what does that mean? He was here, he was a giant, his words are here for us any time we wish. Before he went away, he wrote A Child's Christmas in Wales. Wrote it, I believe, for Ladies Home Journal, but it achieved a more robust life of its own and became a classic. It's what the literati refer to as "accessible."

It begins, "One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."

He goes on to talk of a wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and launches into the tall tales and the mystery magic of the season for a six year old, or twelve year old.

You can buy the slim book or, much better yet, listen to the 20-minute CD, spoken by the man his own self. You'll never forget it. And it'll help brighten this month of January, and Christmases for years to come.

Skiing. For years I was drunk on skiing, addicted to it. I lived in flat-ass Omaha, but went to Colorado every chance I got and for as long each time as I could stay without loss of job and perspective, though both suffered. Near Omaha was (and still is, I hear) a ski-hill, Crescent, in Iowa, and several of us were there every night it was open. The runs had been designed and laid out by the legendary Stein Eriksen, who I met in Aspen, when I was trying to figure out a way to stay there. The only job available was apprentice to a farrier, and I considered it. I wonder where I'd be now, had I done that. Forks in the road, man.

Last month I got a cortisone shot in my right knee, for excruciating pain, and remembered wrenching that knee on the expert runs of Ajax Mountain in Aspen. Half a century ago. But we're indestructible at that age, and I just taped it up and continued. Ajax is now Aspen Mountain, though I prefer its earlier name, the badass warrior in Homer's Illiad. Wonder why they changed it. Anyway, I had no style, just speed, and I rented skis and boots, haunted the slopes where classes were held, at a distance, listening to the instructors' shouted directions, until they'd run me off. But I learned.

Later, I bought Head Vectors, much longer than skis of today, with long-thongs and beartrap bindings, then better bindings as they came along. Learning to ski on long skis (how you measured your proper length was to stand straight, raise your arm straight up, and the tip of the ski should touch your wrist below the ball of your thumb) will prepare one for even greater control with shorter skis. And as the years went by, the skis got a bit shorter, and the releases got less vicious.

My first pair of Heads were ruined rope-skiing behind a Jeep on Omaha streets from bar to bar, a kind of pub-ski that a bunch of us dreamed up. The snow was deep, but some city jokers laid down cinders and that's just hell on skis, whatever your wax.

In Aspen and Vail and Copper Mountain and a dozen other joints, even at Crescent and little hills in Illinois and Wisconsin, wherever I was living, the food tasted better and the drinks were fantastic when skiing was involved. Nothing like skiing behind a horse after taking on a cargo of gin & tonics, then swinging out around the horse, watching his eyes bug out as you pass him, and whoever's aboard him trying to keep him from bucking...then it happens: bam, you hit a small tree buried in the snow and go clattering ass over teakettle, skis windmilling right along, bippity bip, digging divots.

We skiid behind horses, pickups, snowmobiles, in pastures and city parks and downhill in the ski areas and anywhere we could. Once, I spent more than three weeks in Aspen, and the mayor's dog was a constant companion, slept in my room at night sometimes, lay at my feet at the Chart House. The mayor was Guido Meyer, mayor from 1973 to 1979. I stayed at his chalet/motel, nice place, and he was a super nice guy. I had fallen into the rhythms of the town, and hated to leave. I plotted over the following year to find a way to stay there, summer and winter, but to no avail. I never met Hunter Thompson, that was the problem. Had our paths crossed, I'd have stayed.

Tomorrow: notes from my ski days, unabridged. They read like downhill racing, and downhill was a life description at that time.