Okay, so, have you ever sort-of-kinda gotten back in touch or crossed with someone after awhile, and after a few minutes of talking about the old days, things get quiet and a little awkward because you realize that the "old days" are all you really have in common anymore? Yeah, it’s weird.
Which is why it’s so cool that I had the totally opposite thing happen last weekend, and it was a freaking blast. A little setup: Maybe a month or so ago, I fired off an email to a guy I hadn’t seen in almost – and believe me, it was a shock to write this – TWENTY years. Last time I had even corresponded with him was probably ten years ago, and that was just a couple emails when I lived in Florida.
So he answers and we start emailing over the past few weeks, and he gives Crossing Decembers a read and it’s ridiculous how much we have in common that I don’t even think we knew (or would acknowledge) back when we were 17 or 18, and we decide to hang out last Friday night after work.
Very, very cool night. Ran for pizza, played a lot of catch-up, talked about families and life and books and movies and and all things geek, met his wife, and the three of us spent I-lost-track-of-how-many hours playing Rock Band – which, by the way, kicks ass and will be in the Booth household as soon as they release a Wii version so hurry-the-frak-up-already – and just generally had an unbelievably relaxed and good time.
We borrowed my brother’s plastic saucer and took our little flimsy plastic sled because apparently our flat-bottomed “boat” sled is down at mom’s.
I also grabbed a couple candles and waxed up the steel runners of my old Flexible Flyer III.
I can’t remember ever not having this sled, though I think I have a vague recollection of a time when it was brand new. True, there’s probably a decade covering my college years and the time I lived in Florida when you
could count on one hand the number of times I rode it, but I’m sure my little brothers put it to work, so we’re still talking at minimum 30-some years that this sled’s been in use.
I can remember being small enough that I sat in the front, putting my boots on the steering crossbar while Mom or Dad sat behind me and put their legs on either side and holding the big loop of rope tied into the ends of
the steering bar.
My friends and brothers and I made countless trips up and down the small hill in our backyard, one, two, three of us squeezed onto this thing like bobsledders or lying down, double- and sometimes precariously
triple-stacked. We’d try to stand on it sideways, like a surfboard, mostly unsuccessfully.
It’s been going to the Malone College hill overlooking Route 62 an awfully long time. Dad started taking us there when he had to enroll in some classes, which I thought was funny because he was already an anesthetist and yet he was having to take these courses in stuff like Music Appreiciation. Anyway, even back in the 1980s, the Flexible Flyer III was becoming a bit of a relic compared to all the runnerless plastic sleds, and it had its weaknesses in snow that wasn’t well-packed. (Nothing like lying on your stomach at Warp Nine and getting a
faceful of snow when you hit a powdery patch.)
So my daughter and I got to Malone and left the Flyer in the car for the first few runs down the big, rounded part of the hill. Nice, long, relatively easy sledding here. Plenty of room to spin around or race, or hold the sleds together in tandem and slowly gather your speed for the run-off at the bottom.
When we decided to move over toward another part of the hill, I switched out the flimsy
sled for the old-school Beast.
It was literally the only classic runner sled we saw on the hill, and there were at least a couple dozen other people out there. I took the Flyer on a test run – steeper drop-off at the top over on this part, and more bumps along the way, but the sled itself offered some shock absorption, unlike the thin plastic rides, and with the hard-pack and ice, she flew. There are few things in life that make me feel like a kid again so quickly and vividly and deeply as sledding.
Having seen me survive, my daughter warmed up to the Flyer and we took turns swapping it and riding double.
The other thing that made this fun was the sheet of ice that extended along the top ridge of the hill, so getting back up was a chore of falling, sliding, laughing, walking back and forth to find small spots of snow and finally half-crawling back up, sleds in tow.
Before we left, we decided to take one hack at the serious part of the hill: a stretch with a moderately steep start, then, after about 20 or 30 feet, a severe drop-off – as in “possibility of being airborne” severe – followed by a minefield of bumps and bare spots.
I went first, lying down on the Flyer, hooking my feet underneath the parking-lot guardrail at the top of the hill to keep from taking off. Gotta be honest: I was a little nervous, looking at that drop-off, wondering if me and my sled would just go over into a nose-dive.
Then my daughter accidentally let go of the saucer sled she was holding. And down it went. We looked at each other, and I had no more time to think, so I unhooked my feet and launched myself in pursuit.
I was on the edge of the drop before I could blink, and while I don’t think I left the ground completely, I know there was a mighty WHUMP! at the bottom, coupled with some serious acceleration, and I was whipping down the hill, ribcage rattling against the wooden slats of the sled, eyes focused on the blue saucer as I closed in on it. I steered close and, not slowing down, managed to reach out and grab it one-handed as I flew past, hoisting it triumphantly.
So, back up the hill.
One more run. Daughter’s coming along, riding on my back. I’ll absorb most of the rough ride, I tell her, you just hang on. It’s not bad. Fun stuff. Then we’ll call it a day.
She’s nervous. We get on the sled. I unhook my feet and with the extra weight, we get up to speed awfully damn fast and I hear her say, “No, wait-” but it’s too late and we’re over the edge and –
there is a taffy-pulled moment of stretched time where we’re not feeling the icy ground rumbling beneath us; where things get quiet like driving beneath an overpass during a rainstorm; where –
Oh, good God, we hit the ground again and we knock skulls and I can feel my brain and other organs rattling around as we crash over bumps and ice and I feel my daughter sliding off my back and I holler “Hang on! Stay on the sled!” and we’re rolling off so I push the right side of the steering bar hard and the sled carves a left turn, bringing us back into balance and then we’re slowing and stopping and we’re both whooping and gasping and she’s crying a little but then we’re laughing and deciding that that is how you end a day of sled-riding, Red Five, grab the gun and bring the cat inside.
When we’ve trekked back up to the car, I lean the Flyer against it. Late afternoon sunlight catches on
the snow melting from the runners.
Then we notice the damage.
Two of the Flyer’s three wooden supporting crossbars have snapped.
Can they be replaced? Maybe. Grandpa Jeff’s got a good set of tools and a supply of lumber that might
work. But I don’t know.
We remove our hats and our gloves.
If this was the Flyer’s last flight, it was a good one.
Hannah Montana. (She also digs Wallace and Gromit, too, though – we
just watched Curse of the Were Rabbit for the first time and loved it
start to finish. Now she keeps clutching her hands up near her chin and
We didn’t get into the whole Hannah Montana Live hysteria – after
all, she’s already been to a real rock concert – but I was able to completely surprise her with a trip to the 3-D movie
last weekend. (Which, for what it’s worth, represents everything I find
cynical and infuriating about Disney: You want to capitalize on the
frenzy, I get it. But charging $15 per ticket and doing this
limited-release thing, particularly during the school year, is just
hype-driving bullshit. Frankly, the only reasons we went were because
they extended the run and because my kid had been amazingly non-whiny and
level-headed about why we couldn’t go to the first "one weekend only"
rush. She never even mentioned it again, which made the surprise that much better.)
Anyway, given my recent re-reading of Watchmen and some Marvel comic trade paperbacks on loan from my friend Adam, and then this post over at Geekdad, I thought it would be fun to introduce my daughter to some graphic novels.
A couple weeks and two trips to the library later, and I’m rewarded with moments like this: When I went into her room to say goodbye this morning
before leaving for work, she tells me that she had woken up in the
middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, so she read Jeff Smith’s "Bone"
Volume 4 – The Dragonslayer. The whole thing. She’s also itching to get back to Andy Runton’s Owly series.
Man, that’s pretty cool.
(On a semi-related note, I found a dirt-cheap copy of Scud: The Disposable Assassin – Programmed for Damage about a week and a half ago. I had two issues of Scud back when they were new
in the 1990s, but lost track of the series, so I’m very excited to see the
author’s finally getting around to completing the story. Better and weirder and funnier than I remembered, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest and then catch up on the long-awaited concluding issues.)
No, I don’t know anybody with a Kindle or a Sony Reader either, but look – I’m not the only one thinking that there just might be something to this whole books-without-pages thing: Tor‘s getting in on the act, and so’s HarperCollins. And Neil Gaiman wants to give away one of his books too. (My vote would be for American Gods, by the way.)
So, yes, by all means, you should read electronic books. For what it’s worth, I’m reading a Wowio-downloaded version of
Jon Paul Fiorentino’s "Asthmatica." I’ll let you know when I’m finished.
I’ve never managed to pull my act together enough to schedule what you’d call a "writer’s retreat," but one fell into place for me over the weekend and it was just amazing. Mom asked me to house-and-dog-sit down at her place from Saturday afternoon to lunchtime Sunday – 20 acres of woods at least a half-hour’s drive from the nearest significant town, just me, four relatively maintenance-free dogs, six feed-’em-and-forget-it cats and no Internet access.
This was coming off a week in which I pitched for a freelance assignment I didn’t get and was more disappointed than I was prepared to be. I told myself that in the two weeks I would have had to write this proposed 2,000-words-and-change piece, I would instead throw myself back into my Star Wars memories series like I’ve been meaning to do for awhile.
Didn’t come easily at first – I fed the pets, started some laundry, set up my writing shop by a big window facing north and …. couldn’t get going. Looked through some old boxes of photos and family history that mom had sitting out on the kitchen table. Made myself a bowl of soup. Read some of John Varley’s "Red Lightning." Switched the laundry to the dryer, started another load. Put "Star Wars" in the VCR as background noise – which I figured was OK, since I couldn’t see the television from where I was, um, supposed to be working.
And then finally made myself sit at that laptop and get cracking. Started slow, sorting through some hastily-typed paragraphs I’d left sitting stale too long ago, but pretty soon hit my stride and was in The Zone and having a blast. I only took few short breaks to switch the laundry loads and follow up "Star Wars" with "The Empire Strikes Back."
Oh, and I had to go outside at one point and fill the wood burner to heat the house. Cold and brilliantly clear sky. Chucking the logs into the wheelbarrow and then into the burner, I really felt like I was on a movie-scripted "writer’s weekend away."
Went to bed just shy of 1:30 p.m., read some more "Red Lightning" and fell asleep watching "Firefly"
My goal of clearing that 2,000-new-words plateau over the next couple weeks? Put it behind me Sunday morning with a post-breakfast writing stint. Mentally, it felt like I do when I’m finished running. A little winded for a short while, but awfully damn good not long afterward, and that’s the feeling that’s still with me.