Anything We Want
The kitchen in that house is a better place to eat than the dining room, so when the meat was in the oven and the potatoes were in the pot, we found Dana and his mother and asked them into the kitchen to talk while dinner cooked.
I could tell that my father was nervous, but neither Dana nor his mother seemed to notice. Dad started with small talk about getting them home after they ate, and when he learned that Elenora’s car had a dead battery he excused himself to call Heinrich, then gave Elenora the phone so she could detail the problem. Dana had a curious look about him, but I managed to keep him distracted.
We didn’t talk about any Laundromat before we ate, but just about general things like how much it had just snowed, where they lived, our life in Brattleboro, and the house we were sitting in. Dana had seen some of it, and Elenora seemed truly fascinated, so I led them on a tour.
It’s kind of embarrassing when you know how big your house is, but don’t really remember what’s behind each door. Bathroom or bedroom? Let them look, then say “Oh, yeah, that’s another bedroom,” and “Oh, this bathroom is shared by a bedroom and a room that’s … I don’t know what it is. It’s not a bedroom.” My determining factor was whether the room had a closet or not. Closet yes? Bedroom. Closet no? Not a bedroom, even if there was a bed.
Still, even in a long, long hallway, Mom and Ally brought out that cozy feeling. There were tables, chests, even a little desk to break up the path, and a truly eclectic bunch of art on the walls, along with shelves full of things.
When we got back to the kitchen, Dad said dinner was just about ready. Elenora went on and on about the house, and I eyed Dana, wondering if any of our stuff had found its way into his pockets.
I realized I was thinking things like that, and about him being a liar, based on a single comment my father heard over the phone, and I felt bad about it. I went into the bathroom and doused my face in cold water over and over again, like some self-imposed exorcism of my bad thoughts, and before my face was toweled dry, the thief and liar thing was active in my head again, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Talk about the power of suggestion!
I was clearing the dishes from the table when I heard Dad say, “Elenora, I’ve been thinking. That coin-op you told me about? Is the owner anxious to sell it?”
I stopped paying attention, and asked Dana to help me load the dishwasher. I figured my father would want us out of there, so I asked Dana if he was up for a walk outside in the snow. After all, we’d watched it come down and tried to measure it, but we hadn’t really been out in it at all.
He was game, so we bundled up and went out the front. It was dark by then, and I turned on the lights along the driveway, and we started walking that way. We were idly commenting on how high the snow was plowed up beside us, pointing out unusual formations where it had drifted, and nothing things like that. I enjoyed Dana’s company in that setting, and when we got to the town road we kept going, only uphill instead of down, so part of the walk back would still be downhill. Our driveway was very long, and a good section of it was steep, so this was a common sense approach to a stroll, I guess.
We were out for about an hour, and when we were back on the front porch I figured it was time to ask. “Dana?”
He looked at me in question. “Dad heard something last night.” I could feel my blush, but it was dark, so Dana couldn’t see it. His curiosity was on his face, and I plundered ahead. “Someone told my father that you aren’t too honest, and … and that you steal things.”
Dana’s face fell, and he was silent at first, then he looked at me. “You believe them?”
I didn’t know how to answer. I stammered, and finally asked, “Should I?”
Dana looked at me, looked away, looked down, and finally faced me, although it took him a long time to speak. “Sometimes we’re in trouble, so I take things to sell. Usually skis and the like, but anything really. I don’t admit it too easy, if that’s what they mean by being dishonest, and it’s all dishonest, but Jesus. Sometimes it just all falls apart, and I don’t know what else to do.”
I started to respond and Dana said, “Don’t worry. I would never steal from you.”
I looked at him, then looked in his eyes and didn’t find a lie there, and that was good enough. I smiled. “I don’t think you’ll be in that kind of trouble again.” I held out my mittened hand to shake, “Friends?”
Dana looked at my hand, held out his own mitten, and said in a soft voice as we shook, “Yeah, we can be friends.”
When we went inside, we had to go around looking for my father and Dana’s mother, and we finally found them on the back deck, which we’d passed a few times without looking outside. When I opened the door, they hurried inside, and they both looked cold.
Dad took off his coat and helped Elenora out of hers, then Dad said, “Boys, we’ve been talking about a little business venture.”
Elenora beamed, and I think her smile startled Dana. He asked suspiciously, “What kind of business?”
Elenora pushed his chest gently and said, “Better sit down, kid.” She slowed her words and emphasized each one. “You are going to like this.”
They all sat, and I started to, when Dad said “Why don’t you make some hot chocolate, Paul? You’ll be able to hear.”
I shrugged, and looked through cupboards until I found a box. I read the directions, and it was the kind you made with just water, so I put a kettle on to boil. Dad had started talking.
“Dana, I was just telling your mother that, for a while now, I’ve been thinking it would be good business to do something different with a coin-op laundry. Imagine my surprise when I learned just today that there’s one for sale right here in town, and that your mother used to run the place.”
I didn’t say anything, and I hid the stupid grin on my face. No wonder Dad made money. He could make it sound like it was a good deal for him even when he was giving it away. And his plan was all of two hours old.
He had Dana sold after mentioning just a few of his ideas, and they were all tossing in new ideas before I brought the hot chocolate to the table, along with a can of instant whipped cream. Before an hour was out, we’d decided that laundry would have a play area for kids, card tables for adults, checker boards and chess sets, a snack bar, comfortable seats, a big community bulletin board, a combination ice cream parlor, coffee shop and bakery, old fashioned benches on the sidewalk out front, and maybe a corner where local people could sell their crafts and canned goodies on consignment.
It was fun being part of the excitement, and I loved seeing this happy eagerness shared between Dana and Elenora. Dad and Elenora had already talked about money, and they didn’t repeat that in front of Dana and me. He told me after they left about the deal, and it’s no wonder Elenora was so excited. Dad would pay all the front money, and just buy everything outright. He’d offered Elenora a generous salary to run the place, and half the profits if there were any. When he learned there were two apartments on the upper floor of the building, he told Elenora she should take one for herself as part of compensation, and he’d pay her a commission if she kept the other unit rented.
Dad was no dummy, and Elenora had to make a lot of commitments of her own, and all promises would be all legal and in writing before anyone spent a dime.
Still, when it was time for Dana and his mother to leave, we were all a bit giddy with good feeling. Dana was going to show me some downhill tricks the next day, because Dad insisted he go skiing with us, and he let Dana choose the place we’d go. I was all for that, but I stayed home to go to bed when Dad took them home.
I watched as they put their coats on, and it was still hard for me to believe that Elenora was Dana’s mother. She could easily have been a sister, and one not much older than him at that. While I was brushing my teeth, I realized that Dana might just look a lot older than he usually did, given the damage to his skin. Still, I thought it might be fair for my father to ask her for some identification, and proof of motherhood, before they went too far with their plans.
I fell asleep easily that night, and I slept soundly. One good thing about skiing as an activity is that it takes place in the middle of the day. The lifts start up around nine, and close when it gets dark, which varies, but in the mountains dark comes pretty early because the mountains themselves hide the sun. It’s very civilized, and it was eight before my father called for me to get up.
I did, and I took a quick, cold shower and took care of things, then started layering on the clothes. I wasn’t really paying attention, but when I caught myself in the mirror I looked as chunky as Dana had the night before. Maybe he wasn’t so soft looking after all, but just dressed for the weather.
Dad made fried-egg-on-toast sandwiches for breakfast, and he ate one while I had two with cheese. We had some fresh fruit with it. I had a glass of milk and a coffee, too, and I was ready to go.
You would think that a three-million dollar house might come with a garage, and I think all the others on Earth did, but ours doesn’t have one. Garages didn’t fit the rustic character of the development, and even though our own place couldn’t be seen from anywhere else except outer space, we had no garage. It was one of many protective covenants.
That meant the car had to be warmed up, and the snow scraped off, though I wasn’t sure why. My father had gone to pick up Dana’s mother, and it was clear that the most he scraped was the windshield. It didn’t look like much snow had left voluntarily, either. . There was a lot of snow, most of it piled high on the Jeep.
Dad and I carried our equipment out, and we both laughed when we saw the car. It was like a skyscraper car. Too tall. That made it appear narrow, and somewhat bent from the back, and it was comical. It was comical until Dad handed me a brush, anyhow, then I pre-moistened myself with light snow so I could be cold before we even hit the slopes.
We finally got the car cleaned off enough to drive. Our skis were on the roof, and my board in the back, and we drove off anticipating a great day. It was early and the world was brilliant white at ground level. The sky was the deep, deep blue that only follows a cleansing snow.
“Where are we going?” I asked. I knew which ski area, but it had a lot of places to start out from.
“Main lodge,” Dad said. “We’ll meet Dana there.”
“We’re not picking him up?” I asked, disappointed. I wanted to see where he lived.
“Elenora’s dropping him off.” I noticed my father’s glance at me, and he added, “Listen, Paul. Last night I got the feeling that Dana doesn’t want you to see where he lives … how he lives. Just leave that alone for now, okay?”
I suddenly felt bad. How bad could it be that he didn’t want me to see it? But I heard my father, and we’d get to the mountain faster without a swing into town. I wouldn’t make Dana feel bad on purpose, but my mouth seemed to have a mind of its own sometimes, so this was just as well.
When we got to the mountain, Dad got us lift tickets while I lugged my skis to where we were supposed to meet Dana. He wasn’t there, and Dad was already fitting a pass to my jacket when Dana showed up.
I didn’t recognize him until he was right on us, even though I’d seen him hurrying in our direction, boots bouncing against one side, and his skis and poles over the opposite shoulder. I didn’t know him by sight yet, and he was dressed to ski and not to die in a road, so it was a fast surprise when I did recognize him.
His face was better than it had been, but still looked puffy and cracked, yet he had a smile on that didn’t seem to hurt him.
“Hi,” he cried when he reached us. “I’m late.”
“Not late,” my father said. “Just in time.” He went to hook Dana’s ticket on, and Dana just took it from him and did it himself, with his one free hand.
Okay, he was used to skiing, but the old, red skis he had looked tired, and his poles didn’t match. My father noticed, and took a closer look at Dana’s skis. “My God!” he exclaimed. “How old are these, Dana? They’re beautiful.”
Dana looked at his skis, then dropped them on the snow. “I don’t know. From the sixties, I think,” he said, looking at Dad. “Paul said you use Stratos, too?”
My father said, “Yeah. Mine aren’t that old, but I’ve had them probably twenty years. I’ve had other things, but nothing I ever liked better.”
Dana concentrated while he put the skis in a carry-handle, and he wrapped a cable lock around and through his skis and poles.
I thought that was kind of hypocritical for an acknowledged ski thief, but I also found it amusing in a paranoid kind of way. Dana might take your skis, but you wouldn’t get his without a fuss.
We went into the lodge and found a locker for our shoes, then sat and put our ski boots on. Dana’s boots looked decent, but the rest of his gear and clothes were old and used looking, but it had been top notch when it was starting out. I began to get the idea the he knew how to budget so he could have the things he needed. I noticed him looking at me and my father, and didn’t see any jealousy, but he sure paid attention to our gear.
We were ready in no time, and went to the quad chair that would take us to the summit. The attendant said a cheerful hello to Dana, calling him by name. An older woman got on with us, and she was dressed in older things much like Dana, and she sure was chatty. I think we were all relieved when we reached the top, and she skied off by herself.
We went to the trail head where I normally took a first run with my father, and waited for Dana at the crest. We waited several minutes before we realized that he’d gone a different way, so we skied off.
It was a good trail to start the day: a big, wide cruiser that branched off into the glades on one side, the steeps on another, and otherwise just kept cruising right to the bottom. You could turn off at any time to find trees, narrows, steeps, moguls, and steep and narrow mogul trails.
We were most of the way down when we heard from above, “Hey! Hey Drecks! Where’d you go?”
We looked up, and Dana was on the chair back up waving and yelling. “Wait for me!” he hollered. “I’ll be right down.”
I looked at my father, and he looked at me, and both our jaws dropped. From where we got off the lift, you could go over to a beginner slope that wound all around and took a half-hour, or you could go the way we did, which Dana hadn’t, so the only other choice was this chute that you had to have balls of steel-reinforced concrete to try. It was named Devil’s Dive, and it was a narrow, steep-sided trail that went straight down, and left absolutely no room for error. It had places where you had to jump, and some of those jumps were huge. Being an expert skier wasn’t enough: you had to be a super-expert, with the aforementioned super-sized cojones, and you had to have absolute confidence in your ability. Otherwise you’d die.
We waited for Dana at the bottom, and we didn’t wait long. I could recognize him coming down the dive from the second I saw him way up there, as a little speck. He was skiing fast and with abandon. He looked reckless at first, but it was a reckless kind of hill he was on. It only took me a few seconds to realize that Dana was a truly elegant skier, because he made what he was doing look perfectly effortless.
There was a mound between the trails about a hundred yards from us, and Dana came over that in a flip, which he landed barely kicking up snow, then he was on us, and he stopped in a big tip-roll that had me and Dad backing off like crazy.
I hadn’t realized it before, but Dana’s hat was the kind you could pull down over your face to make a wind mask, so he looked like some Satanic skier at first. Then he pulled his mask up and grinned. “Told ya!”
“You are Satan!” came out of my mouth before I could stop it. “Holy, holy shit!”
“What he said,” my father added, pointing at me, and Dana beamed.
Dana said, “I know this hill. Wanna see it?”
“Um …” I mumbled.
“Aah, maybe not,” Dad added.
Dana smiled, and I was starting to like that smile. He shook his head in a gentle no and said, “I don’t mean get crazy. We can work our way across the peaks before lunch, then pick what you like. There’s a downhill coming up Sunday, so I’ll show you the track.”
Dad and I looked at each other, and found a somewhat reluctant agreement there between us. Dad looked at Dana and said, “Okay. Nothing crazy, though.”
Dana didn’t smirk or anything when he nodded, so I felt better.
We followed Dana onto lifts, then down some easy trails, some middling trails, and some really steep ones, but the harder they became, the shorter they were. Everyone who worked there knew Dana, too, and they all seemed pleased to see him there.
I don’t know what Dana was thinking when we skied with him, but it was like a ski lesson, Dana style.
And could he ever ski! If there was a bump, he jumped it. If it was a big bump, he’d do a flip. If we were under a lift he’d show off.
Most of all, he was so smooth that skiing his way looked easy, and I learned by following, as did my father. By the time we stopped at the summit lodge for lunch, Dad and I were laughing about how much we’d learned just from being with Dana. He wasn’t teaching us, really. He didn’t tell us what to do, but we both so wanted some of his style that Dana may as well have been saying, ‘Do it this way.’
I know that when I ordered lunch I was a better skier than I’d been that morning. Dad’s surprise and appreciation was all over his face, too.
Dana could ski with the best skiers we’d ever seen, and better than most, or even all of them. His immediate reward was a half-pound cheeseburger with spicy fries, which is what I had too. My father ate most of a Reuben that looked like it weighed in at two pounds.
Dana was ready to ski right away, and I wanted to go with him. My father wanted to waddle off some of his sandwich before going back out, so we decided on a place to meet at the bottom, and I took off with Dana.
“Where to?” I asked.
Dana made a face like he was thinking, and said, “Want to do the downhill track? I’ll go slow.”
I looked at him and asked, “There’s a downhill here?”
He smiled, “Well, sorta. It uses the regular trails, but I know just where it goes. When there’s a race, they put up snow fence.”
I smiled and said, “Who’s better than you? Let’s go!”
Dana had this thing he did, where he wiggled his butt and that made some quick, short turns just when he started moving. I’d tried it earlier and went right on my ass. I meant to ask him how it worked, and he did it again then. This time when I tried it, I think it worked. I didn’t fall, at least, and the butt wiggling came from making the quick, short turns, not the other way around.
I followed Dana, who was pretty much skirting the summit, and he stopped in just a few minutes. I looked down the slope and liked what I saw. Dana asked, “Well?”
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I think I like it,” I said. We were at the top of a steep, wide trail that leveled off about two hundred yards below us, and then it made a wide, sweeping turn to the left, which was about as far as I could see. “Any tricks down there?” I asked.
Dana shook his head. “No. That’s where the speed comes from in downhill. They don’t ask you to make a lot of turns. Just go fast”
I said, “Don’t expect me to go as fast as you, but don’t get too far out of sight, either.’
Dana grinned, “We can’t do it at race speed anyhow. The Ski Patrol would pull our tickets in a second. You want to go first? Just go to the left down there, and wait at the next steep.”
I smiled, “See you,” and pointed my skis straight down the hill. I got into what I thought was a tuck, and in a few seconds I was flying. I got nervous, though. What looked like a big, wide turn from the top was starting to look like a tight street corner at my speed, and I didn’t think I was going to make it, so I stood out of my tuck and made a few quick turns to tame the velocity. I was still going fast, yet Dana whooshed by me like I was sitting on a park bench, and he held a full tuck position right around the bend until he was out of sight. I might mention that it took him all of two seconds to disappear over the length of a football field.
I had taken off too much speed, and I had to skate a bit after I took that bend, because it was almost level there.
It took me a minute to reach where Dana was waiting, and when he saw me he made like he looked at a wristwatch. He was grinning when I stopped. “Get lost?” he asked innocently.
“I thought you’d get kicked out for skiing like that,” I said.
Dana said, “For what? I said we can’t ski at race speed. I was just pokin’ along, takin’ in the view.”
I looked at him, wondering if he was serious. “Yeah, well you take in views pretty damn quick. Are you saying you have afterburners or something?”
Dana shrugged, “Maybe, I guess.” He grinned again. “Tell you what.” He pointed down the hill, and we were at the top of another steep, which was shorter and narrower than the first one. Where it flattened out, there was a broad area of what looked like level ground. “Ski down here, and go to the right where it levels off. It gets tricky there, because you have to go across the hill, not down it, but the hill don’t know that. Keep a high line there, ‘cause if you get too low you’ll have to walk back up. Just when you get past the trees, hang a left, and stop about a hundred yards down there. There’s some little moguls. Wait there, and then watch how I do it.”
I smiled. “You’re the boss, and here I go!”
It was fun skiing like that, but when I got to where I had to cross that wide part, where the mountain went down and I didn’t want to, I lost all my speed from edging so hard to keep my line. When I reached the spot where I was to wait, I stood and looked uphill.
I suddenly heard this happy screech, and Dana came airborne onto the trail where I was waiting. He began his downhill turn in the air before he touched down, and he approached me at an alarming rate. He pulled to a very sudden stop in an arms-and-legs-out tip roll about three feet from me. I almost fell over trying to get out of his way, but came up grinning, and I was facing Dana’s own happy grin.
Dana seemed elated, and I suppose I would have been too, if I could put on a performance like that. He gushed, “Right there! That’s where you make or break this course. When they had the World Cup here, it was the best camera shot; that and right where we’re standing.” He looked downhill and said, “Let’s go. It’s just a ride from here.”
Following Dana on his ‘ride’ was a trip. He started off pacing me, then vanished in a rooster-tail of snow. God, he was fast, and when I got to the bottom he was waving me over to the lift line, a grin for the ages on his cracked face.
We rode up and got off the lift at the halfway station, so we could go find my father. That gave us a brief time to talk, and I did most of it. I started with, “The next person who says you’re a bullshitter, I’m gonna poke him in the eye! You’re awesome, man! Awesome!”
Dana could take a compliment, too, even an overblown one like mine. He basked in it, it seemed, then he said, “I think I was awesome when I was ten.” He smirked at me, “I’m better now, but I guess words don’t grow up like people.” His eyebrows went up. “You seem like a smart guy. Maybe you can come up with a better word.”
I looked at him and said, “You know, Dana, I’m starting to like you. But if you’re gonna get a big head just because you can ski better than God and everybody, you should know this.”
He laughed, “Know what?”
I yelled, “I hate big-headed, conceited people! I know you can ski, but for you to be proud you need something else, too. A lot of something elses!”
Dana kept laughing. “I guess I do know that. I don’t have anything else going right now, so I should just not be proud of my skiing?”
That stopped me. “I didn’t say you shouldn’t be proud of what you can do. I’m just saying you don’t have to put up billboards, or brag yourself up.”
Dana’s confused face made me laugh. I bopped his arm and said, “Listen. As long as it’s me saying good things about you, that’s okay. When you start doing it, it puts me off.” I looked at him. “Fair?”
Dana looked at me, then he nodded. “I guess. I think you don’t do it. Like the rich kid doesn’t lord it over people, and I like that.”
I said, “I told you. I’m not rich.”
Dana smiled and said, “I know.” Then he snickered, “My mom can’t ski worth a damn. Get it?”
I just stared, and Dana said, “Your dad has the money, not you, right?”
“Well, I can ski, not my mother. Isn’t it the same thing, just turned around?” I was about to answer when his eyes went wide and he said, “We’re here. Skis up!”
I looked in time to see the mid-station platform approaching rapidly, and I got the tips of my skis up, then let the bottoms land, and we skied off to the right. Dana kept going, just loping down the easy trail, and I followed after him, still amazed by his graceful style.
I had an interesting thought as we carved lazy turns down the hill. I could envy Dana’s ability on skis, and at the same time worry about his circumstances in life. I certainly wasn’t jealous of his lack of material things, even though my wealth of them would embarrass me sometimes.
My father had seen where Dana lived, and not said anything about it, but that’s the way Dad is. I knew about poverty, and I’d seen it in Boston, and even in Brattleboro, but I’d never confronted it.
What if it had been me all frozen in the road the day before? What if Dana and his mother took me to their house? I was curious, because Dana had slipped easily into our lifestyle, but I doubted that would be true of me. Would I have taken a nap, then demanded a ride home? Probably, I’m sad to say. And I have a snippy mouth at the best of times, so I wondered how I would have treated my own benefactors.
I was getting too cerebral, and corrected myself by falling on my face on perfectly flat snow. Nobody noticed except me, so I just hurried along to catch up with Dana, who had just spotted my father.
They were smiling when I skied up, and I was grinning. “Dad! I just did the downhill track with Dana! This kid can fly!”
Dad grinned and asked, “Do I get to do it?”
I looked at Dana, who nodded eagerly, and said, “Absolutely! Let’s go!”
We did, and it was more fun for me when I knew what was coming up. We mostly took it easy. Parts of the downhill run were marked expert, but just for the steepness. To me, an expert run is steep, narrow, and full of moguls. For the most part, the downhill, as Dana presented it, was intermediate and even beginner terrain: only a challenge to a racer at speed.
We packed it in at around four, even though we could have gotten one more run in. My legs felt like rubber, for starters, and Dad looked beat. I’m sure Dana could have skied all night, but he cheerfully gave up when we did.
We’d ski together again.