Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ultimate Trouble - Story #5

Oak Mountain

            I couldn’t sleep trying to imagine what it would be like, a real ski resort, with real ski runs and real ski lifts.  I was only eleven years old, and though an accomplished downhill skier, I had never been to a ski resort.  My friends and I were extreme skiers, hiking to the top of different foothills in the Adirondack Mountains with our Frankenstein-like ski boots and our skis over our shoulders, and then racing each other to the bottom.  Often the ungroomed, unchartered trails were treacherous, filled with every natural obstacle conceivable such as tree trunks, hidden rocks and thorny bushes that would rip our clothing or dig into any exposed flesh with one swipe.  But we were never deterred, even though we usually had the physical and mental stamina for only one such run a day. 
            Being carried to the top of a mountain by a machine called a “T-Bar” was unheard of in my little circle.  Trails without natural barriers seemed even more absurd.  But tomorrow the mystery would be over, my sixth grade class was taking a school trip to Oak Mountain, a small ski resort in Wells, NY.
            There were about thirty young boys and girls who loaded into the yellow and black bus that would take us on our class trip.  Mr. Stafford, an athletic coach and history teacher, was our chaperon.   He barked out orders like a drill sergeant, “Place all your equipment in a pile behind the bus….if anyone misbehaves on the ride to Oak Mountain, they will not be allowed to ski….Skip, if I see you grabbing Jennifer one more time, I’m going to call your mother to come and get you….Once we arrive, we will pile your equipment outside the bus; you should find your own equipment and wait for the group.  We will all enter the resort together…” the ordering and barking went on and on.
            Everyone was so excited about the trip that we were all on our best behavior, everyone except Skip Johnson, who continued to grab at and irritate Jennifer Lawson.
            When we arrived, I couldn’t believe the sheer size and majesty of Oak Mountain.  The runs were clearly cut through the woods and looked like white ribbons on the head of a beautiful girl.  The peak was so high that it was not visible through the clouds.  Giant machines were twirling, taking people two at a time up the various ski runs.  I couldn’t wait!  I had to go to the top of Oak Mountain!
            Unfortunately, I had to wait.
            The first run of the day was down the smallest of the ski runs.  Coach Stafford wanted to see our ability, before he released us to the main portion of the mountain.  So, one at a time, all thirty of us grabbed the “rope tow” and proceeded to the top of the “bunny hill”.  It took Skip Johnson, Charley Legero and me about fifteen seconds to conquer this little hill, and Coach Stafford gave us the green light to proceed to Oak Mountain Run, an intermediate level run that was the most popular ski trail at the resort.  Initially our biggest problem was mastering the “T-Bar” that would take us to the top.  The “T-Bar” was a piece of wood shaped like a “T” that was connected to a wire that extended and retracted out of a large lanyard.  The lanyard was connected to a huge metal cable.  When it was our turn, two of us would scurry into position and the attendant would grab hold of the bar, pull enough wire out of the lanyard, so that the two portions of the “T” would go behind our two little butts.  The “T-bar” would then drag us up the mountain.  It all seemed very simple.  However, it took us four or five tries to make it up the mountain. We would either tip over with the initial jerk when the cable started to pull, or we would lose concentration somewhere along the way to the top and cross our own skis, get our skis tangled with each other, or simply lose our balance and fall off.  This proved quite humiliating, especially because there were always classmates coming behind us, with brutal comments. 
I still remember Buddy Brown yelling, “Hey Johnson, you sissy, why are you getting off here, all the girls are on the top of the mountain?”
Skip retaliated by taking a large dead tree limb and throwing it across Buddy’s path. This caused not only Buddy but the next eight “T-Bar” riders to go down.  It became a multi-skier pile-up that was so severe that the attendant had to shut down the whole lift for about twenty minutes. Skip hid in the bushes and snuck unseen through the woods.  Fortunately, they never found out who had thrown the branch or we would have probably been thrown out of the resort. 
It took us most of the morning, but soon we mastered the “T-Bar.”
            Once on top of the mountain, we were on top of the world.  We looked down and saw the scores of skiers zig-zagging effortlessly down the slope. 
This was different from what we had experienced.  We only knew one way of skiing, full speed.
            “Let’s start the first heat,” said Skip, “The person with the most victories at the end of the day will be the Oak Mountain champion.”
            Charley and I nodded in agreement.
            There was also another incentive for being the first two down the hill.  Third place had to ride the “T-Bar” with a stranger and this proved quite difficult when the stranger was an adult because their butt was so much higher than ours, placing us at even more risk of falling off the “T-Bar.”
            “Three, two, one…go!” yelled Skip.
            We all dug our poles into the hard packed snow, assumed our downhill racing “tuck” and proceeded straight down the mountain.  The snow was hard packed and icy in places, much different and much faster than the thick powder we were used to.  Our skis rattled on the ground.  Soon we picked up an incredible amount of speed.  I would guess that we were going somewhere between forty and fifty miles per hour and climbing.  Our steering ability was crude and barely existent.  Like arrows shot through a crowded street, we flew past the other skiers, with several near collisions.
            Charley won the first heat, Skip came in second and I was third.  We decided that after lunch, it would be time to impress the girls. 
By 11:15 I was absolutely starving and couldn’t wait to eat lunch.  I had gotten up early and made myself a fried egg sandwich, grabbed a bag of chips and an apple.  Unfortunately I had left my little brown bag on the bus, and had to get Mr. Stafford to help me retrieve it.
            “Ha, ha,” I thought as I watched my friends open up their typical bologna and peanut butter sandwiches, “Wait until they see what I have.”  I pulled it out of the sack, unfolded the wax paper and took a big bite….or tried to take a big bite.  It was frozen solid!  I rapped it on the cafeteria table and it made a loud knock, completely inedible.  I tossed it on the floor and we kicked it around like a hockey puck, until Mr. Stafford yelled at us and I threw it away.  I ended up having to use two of my hard earned dollars to buy a hot dog and some fries.
            It was time for the afternoon festivities.  Skip had gotten three girls to agree to race us down the hill.  The only stipulation was that they would start at the halfway point and we would start at the top.  It would be difficult to win, but not impossible.  We would have to go faster than ever before.  They agreed to wait seven minutes from the time they exited the “T-Bar” to give us the opportunity to make it to the top.  We scooted immediately from the “T-Bar” into full racing mode.  I got the best jump and was in the lead.  Faster, faster, faster I went.  I could feel the wind pull at my cheeks and my eyes tear.  I could see the girls up ahead.  I was going to catch them….until….a middle aged man turned directly into my path.  There was no way that I could get around him, so I buried my chin into my chest and braced myself for a nasty collision.  The top of my head hit him in the middle of his left thigh, and my momentum picked him right up off from the ground.  For a few seconds, I was carrying this two hundred pound man on the top of my head.  It was an amazing feat of physics. The collision and weight of the man altered my course and forced me towards the woods, through several patches of thorny bushes, and a bunch of dead trees.  This was much more like the skiing I was used to.  A small forest of pine trees finally stopped the man and me. 
I looked him in the eye and could see only terror and pain. He was gasping for breath.
            “Sorry, mister,” I said picking myself up and making my way back to the trail.  I felt bad that I had maimed this man, but realized that I had lost valuable seconds and had to get back into the race quickly if I had any possibility of winning.  I stumbled through several pieces of his equipment as I followed the tracks back out to the main trail.
            Once on the trail I resumed my racing form, but finished dead last in the race.  Apparently the crash took more time than I thought.  Skip, Charley and the girls waited at the bottom to mock me.  I did much better in the next race.
About twenty minutes later the ski patrol came down the mountain pulling someone on a toboggan.  I recognized the man I had crashed into.
            “I always wanted to ride in one of those things,” said Skip.
            “Me too,” I repeated.
            The rest of the day was spent exploring all the different trails at Oak Mountain.  We even started turning a little, using the snowplow. 
On the way home Mr. Stafford complimented us on our good behavior.
            “Thank-you,” he said, “for being a proud representation of Mayfield Elementary School.”
            “You’re very welcome,” repeated Skip, Charley and I, together with the rest of my sixth grade class.    It felt very good to be included, for once, with the good kids.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ultimate Trouble - Story #4

The Marble Shower

            The new wood floors looked great!  The floor installers had ripped all the nasty rust and blue colored carpet from the concrete slab, put it in the back of their old pick-up truck and replaced it with the most beautiful oak flooring we had ever seen.  We had endured the sights and smell of that carpet for over five years and the hardwood floors sparkled with their fresh polyurethane coating.  This was the first phase of a major remodeling project to our home in Arlington, Texas, which began with the wood floors and continued with a brand new kitchen, including new cabinets, countertops and a new tile floor and would end with a marble shower in the bathroom.  I coordinated everything with the subcontractors and carefully priced and planned each phase of the project.  Mary and I stood spellbound admiring the beautiful hardwood floors.
            “Have you ever seen anything like them?” I asked.
            “Gorgeous.  I’ve never seen one thing improve a house as much as these floors.  Was the carpet really that hideous?”
            “It really was.  Did you see all that dust and dirt that came out of it when they dragged it away?  I don’t ever want to have carpet in this house again.”
            “I agree, but we have to take care of these floors if we want them to keep looking this good,” said Mary.
            “I’m one step ahead of you,” I replied as I retrieved a mop and a bottle of special polishing spray I had bought from the flooring store.  “It’s pretty simple.  You spray a little of this on the head of the mop and it turns the mop into a magnet that attracts the dirt.  And at the same time it polishes the floor.  I’m going to do this every evening.”
            “We’ll see,” answered Mary as she rolled her eyes.  “And what are you going to do about the dogs?  Aren’t their claws going to scratch the floor?”
            “I thought of that, too.”  I went into the bedroom and retrieved a bag containing 4 baby booties and 4 pieces of Velcro.  “I’m not too worried about Shasta, because dachshunds have pretty little feet, but I have something for Chewy.  Chewy, come here,” I called.  Our black Chow Chow suspiciously stuck her head around the corner, questioning what was going on.  I lured her to me with the promise of a butt rub; then I put the pink booties on her paws one at a time and then velcroed each in place.  “Pink goes well with her, don’t you think?”
            “You’re a nut case,” answered Mary.
            At first Chewy skated around the house on the slippery floors like a child on their first pair of ice skates, but in a few days she got the hang of them.  Not once did she try to take them off and soon it became a daily ritual putting them on her in the morning, taking them off when she went out and putting them back on when she came in.
            “I’m surprised you don’t spray that polish on Chewy’s booties so that she can polish the floor as she walks around.”
            “That’s a good idea,” I replied.
            Every night I was true to my promise and polished our floors.  Afterwards, I would sit and admire how beautiful they looked in our home.
            Over the next 3 months, the other home improvement projects progressed well and the new kitchen exceeded our expectations and our budget.  All that was left was the marble shower in our master bedroom.  Mary and I had visited several homes with synthetic marble showers and decided that although expensive, they were the best alternative because of looks, durability and maintenance.  There were not many marble plants, and we decided on Precision Marble in Fort Worth, Texas, based on a recommendation from a builder.  The salesman at Precision explained all the displays in the showroom before leading us into a small room with a desk, 2 chairs and a catalogue.  Mary chose the color and style.
            “So, you would like the beige marble with a bench?”  said the middle-aged man who, by the size of his stomach, liked to drink beer.
            Mary looked over at me, knowing that it was the first I had heard of a bench and said, “Don’t look at me like that.  You have no idea how hard it is to shave your legs standing up in a shower and I’ve always wanted a bench.”
            “How much more is it?” I asked.
            “$750,” answered the salesman.
            I debated all the options and realized the best one was to succumb.  “No problem,” I said.
            “Do you want us to take out the old shower, or are you going to do that yourself?” the salesman asked.”
            “How much?”
            “What do you think honey?” I asked.
            Knowing my long history of disasters with home projects she answered quickly, “We’d best leave this to the professionals.”
            When it was all said and done, I signed a contract for $5,200.  But, it was a once in this house investment, and we did plan to stay for a while.
            “When can the crew come out to remove the old shower?” asked Mary.
            The salesman looked at his schedule and then answered, “How about Tuesday morning?”
            “That will work for me,” answered Mary.
            “All right then and how about we start putting the new shower in on Thursday?”
            “That quick?  That’ll be great!”  answered Mary.
            On Tuesday morning 3 grungy, overweight workers dressed in t-shirts and blue jeans came to the door with a sledge hammer and a box of garbage bags.  Mary pointed them to the shower and they walked through our master bedroom, across our new hardwood floor and the destruction began.  I came home from lunch and couldn’t believe my eyes.  The entire house was a dust cloud from the broken ceramic tile.  Pieces of tile covered the bathroom floor and vanity like shrapnel.  And then there was my new hardwood floor.  There were shards of tile all over it that had apparently leaked from the garbage bags that the crew was dragging across it.  It was an absolute nightmare!  And then instead of cleaning up the pieces, they walked over them, grinding the jagged pieces through the beautiful finish of the floor and into the hardwood!  I couldn’t contain myself.
            “What are you doing?”  I yelled.
            The lead man replied, “We’re ripping out your shower.”
            “But look what you’re doing to my new floor!”
            He looked down and didn’t see the significance.  “We’ll be done in a couple of hours and then we’ll sweep it off.”
            “I mean the scratches!  You’re scratching it all up!”
            “Hey, calm down.  I ain’t got to take you yelling at me.”
            “Get out!”  I yelled. “I’m calling you’re manager.”
            The lead man signaled to the other two and they made a few grunts as they walked across the shards and then left.  I pulled out a broom and a heavy duty vacuum and started cleaning up the mess.  The new floor was a disaster with scratches every few inches and dust permanently packed into every nook and cranny.  The old shower was only partially removed, but they had worked long enough to knock a hole in the ceiling and into the attic allowing cold air to pour in.
            Mary and I looked at the mess.
            “Maybe you should have let them finish,” she said.  “Now we have even a bigger mess.  And it’s supposed to go down below freezing tonight.”
            “They’ll finish all right!  I’ll get a different crew out here immediately.  I’m going to call the manager of that tile place right now!”
            The phone call made its way to the owner of Precision Marble and it did not go well.  I demanded that he come and see the damage his men had done to my new floor.  He evidently received a different story from his crew and was very defensive, but agreed to come to our house.  While I waited, I took a package of post-it sticky notes and placed a yellow note with an arrow pointing to each scratch.  When I was finished, the floor was carpeted with yellow paper.  The owner knocked on the door a few minutes later.  He was a nice looking Hispanic man, in his mid-thirties.  He stared at all the sticky notes in disbelief.
            “It was a brand new floor,” I said.  “And they ruined it.”
            “How much will it cost to refinish it?” asked the owner.
            I quickly calculated.  “It will cost about $500.”
            “Fine, I’ll send you a check by the end of the week.”
            “And when are you going to send a crew to finish the job?” asked Mary.
            The owner looked directly at me and said, “We’re through with you.  Find someone else to do your shower.”
            “What do you mean?” I asked.  “You’re not done and you put a hole in my ceiling.”
            He looked at me and smiled, “I mean, I’m going to pay you $500 and I don’t want anything more to do with you, now good-day.”
            Mary and I looked at each other and were horrified.
            “What are we going to do now?” she asked.
            “We’ll just call another marble shop.”
            I looked in the yellow pages and there were only 3 other shops in our area.  I gave Gerry’s Marble and Granite a call.
            “Yes, I would like for you to complete a shower for me.”
            The salesman took all of our specifications and then asked me to hold while he priced the job.  After about 10 minutes he came back on the phone.  “The owner doesn’t want to do your job.  He said something about a nut-case with sticky notes all over a wooden floor.”
            “That’s because Precision Marble spilled tile all over the floor and then walked over it.”
            “I guess that’s the reason,” he continued.  “Precision Marble is our owner’s brother.”
            I tried the next shop and received the same answer.  I soon realized that all of the marble shops were divisions of the same family and no one would complete my job.
            That night, a blue norther brought icy temperatures to Arlington, Texas, and the wind and cold whistled through the hole in my ceiling.  Mary and I snuggled to keep warm.
            The next day I continued calling marble shops until I found a shop not related to Precision Marble.  They were nearly 100 miles away and I had to pay a 15% premium and wait almost 6 weeks.  The check came to repair the floor, but I waited until the new shower was done to have it refinished.  
When the remodeling was complete, we felt as if we had survived a small war.  Unfortunately, within the next few months my employer relocated me to Tennessee.  And, of course the house that we bought needs a new shower. But this time I think I’m going to go with fiberglass.