Sideways Glance

It was the mediocre winter of '89. I was an apprentice backshop tech, salesperson, and floor sweeper when my boss Pat warned me in November, “Don't take your eyes off that gun-it'll bite you.” My grip tightened a little on the P-tex extruder.

“It's like napalm-drips on your skin and it'll keep burning right on through. So what don't you do?” he asked.

“Take my eyes off the gun,” I repeated. He slapped me on the shoulder, and I started fixing rock-damaged bases that afternoon. Eventually it became second nature. Pat noticed I was getting quicker and reminded me, “Patience. Slow down. Plenty of time.”

The snow base was really shallow that year, so I had lots of practice repairing bases. Blown-out edges. Delams ... lots and lots of P-tex work. It was the silver lining of that season, 'cause it sure didn't snow much.

I lived in a three-bedroom pit with six guys. We called it “Motel Hell.” We'd moved in at the beginning of the season, signed a lease, and promised to stay 'til the end of April. But slowly, the roommates dropped off. For most, it was their first winter away from home-just a year or so out of high school. Dreams were of powder, but we woke to sunshine for weeks on end.

One guy who aspired to be a chef was addicted to Pepsi, Doritos, and pizza. He was a big guy-ex-linebacker-who gripped his cans like a baseball bat, all five fingers curled around, ready to crack a home run. He put down a six-pack a day and left the cans crumpled up next to his chair in front of a television with a horizontal line across the center. His pizza boxes and Pepsi cans piled up, along with a mountain of snotty tissues from a head cold that never seemed to go away.

He was a good friend, and took his skiing almost as seriously as he did the Denver Broncos. However, he'd never been away from Mom and Dad, so he wasn't used to cleaning up after himself. He admitted this openly. On one particularly long drought between storms, he cursed the high pressure and went out for more Pepsi. While he was away, I put on plastic dish gloves and neatly deposited the mountain of empty cans, snotty tissues, Doritos bags, and pizza boxes under the blankets of his bed. Then I went to work.

I heard later he'd come home, immediately noticed the garbage missing, and cheerily said, “Oh, I was just gonna clean that up.” Then he sat down and cracked a fresh bag of Doritos, starting a new landfill.

I came home from work late that night laughing inside, thinking he'd slug my shoulder and say, “You got me … ” But instead, I noticed his truck was loaded with boxes. I'd been in a good mood-it was snowing lightly-and beers should've been flowing inside.

I walked in with my contributory six-pack of Rainier and was greeted by silence. There he was, sitting in his chair, with his big hand wrapped around a Pepsi can, only somehow it reminded me of a chicken's neck. One of my other roommates looked at me, mouthing either “No!” or “Go!” Too late. The trashman was up and had me by the neck against the wall. I chuckled briefly, thinking it was a joke. He had to have known he deserved it.

But then I felt my feet lift off the carpet a little as he whispered in my ear, “If you ever put anything in my bed again, I'll cut off your f-king head and cook it.” This made the whole house roll-but his veins were bulging. He was serious. I was stunned. Then he lowered me, slammed the door behind him, and drove away.

Months later-in late April-there were only two of us left at Motel Hell. I drove to work through falling snow at 7:30 a.m. There was an air of excitement in the shop early that morning-I rented tons of skis as Pat sold out the long-stagnant wall of powder cords and leashes. After the morning rush calmed down, I went into the backshop, cursing my luck-it'd be tracked out by the time I got off at noon. With a heavy sigh I turned on the autopilot and got to work fixing boards.

The flakes were bigger by ten, slowly wafting down outside the shop's window. Gazing out, my mind wandered to which tree lines might still be virgin. And then, “Ahhhhhhh! Shiiiiiiit!”

Looking down, I saw the clear bubble of napalm resting on the top of my left hand. The skin was bubbling around the edges. I whipped my hand around in the air, but the P-tex hung on like glue. Instinctively, I smeared it on the edge of a ski and watched the glob harden as the third-degree burn whitened the meat under my skin.

Pat rushed in.

“Fingers still there?!” he asked excitedly. I nodded, holding up my hand.

“Ahhh, you didn't … ” he started, but I cut him off.

“Can I get out of here?” I asked desperately. “The shop's empty.”

He nodded, and I ran to the bathroom, jumped into my waiting gear, grabbed my board, and rushed for the door. Pat called after me, “It's deep out there. Patience. Keep your eye on the gun.”

Epilogue: On my first waist-deep run down the trees bordering The Devil's Crotch at Breckenridge, I thought about each of my roommates who'd bailed out of the house early because of poor snow conditions. I thought about them for the next two-and-a-half weeks as back-to-back storms hammered Summit County. The P-tex gun sat unplugged, and Pat gave me every morning off. A decade later, I still haven't heard from my trashman ex-roommate. I haven't put garbage in anyone else's bed, either.