Saturday, February 6, 2010

There Goes By the Neighborhood

Once it was about pot. People were out for their routine walks on the streets or the forest trail, and when they would meet, they would exchange the information like ants transferring food: someone had some really good pot down by the river. The news worked its way off the streets and into people’s homes, and as the afternoon wore on and people finished chores, they came out as if answering a summons. The random walking of earlier in the day became a coherent migration toward the river, toward that set of rocks where the good pot was said to be.

This time it was about ice. Svetx and I met Debbie on the river and she told us. She had seen Jack that morning hurtling past her house on the street at 90 mph, his boot heel dug in and his gloved hand dragging, trying to turn that toboggan in the curve before smacking the curb. After the curb it was Larry’s truck, parked on the street because his drive was impassable, that had to be avoided -- but Jack missed this and managed a sharp turn the other direction, onto the access road for one final plunge before the long flat coast on the parking lot for the old mill. Later, Micah had gone under Larry’s truck and hit the curb, but apparently she was okay -- she was back sledding a few minutes later. Anyway, everyone would be at it again that night, because the temperature was going to drop again to 19 degrees. Black Ice Sliding. 8 pm. The winter answer to summer’s Full Moon Tubing.

Svetx and I had missed the day’s sliding, but this would be our chance. We took a nap. We made sure we started on dinner early enough to eat it in time. We drank coconut rum to help conceal the potential pain. We had no toboggan, but we were hoping for a loaner.

Soon after 8 pm we heard screams of delight, so we put on the boots again and walked to the sliding party. People we had seen in daytime now had faces in shadow under hats and hoods. Others came up from the dark run and dropped plastic toboggans onto the ice and said, breathlessly, “Who’s next?”

It was us. I climbed in, and the toboggan wanted to start its slide before Svetx could get in between my legs. Then we were off with the barest shove. Good speed came right away, the gouged ice beneath us giving a hard Moroccan massage to our butts.

Passing the first house on each side, already, it felt too fast. I tried to jam my outstretched heels into the ice, but they hardly made a difference. It would be a brake early, brake often situation.

We passed the house where once lived May who worked at a biodiesel plant but told me that a huge room full of algae would only generate a teaspoon of oil in a day. I told her it depends on the strain of algae and the growing conditions, but she didn’t seem to believe me.

The road steepened and I felt, for the first time, that I should not be dong this. We had angled toward the curb, too, and my heels weren’t helping. I leaned to the right, and that helped a little. I told Svetx to lean right, and this did turn us better. “Straight,” I said, trying not to turn us past center toward the other curb.

We passed the tiny house on stilts, hardly bigger than a deer blind, half of it a screened porch, the other half probably one room, which was built by the artist who lives in it and whom nobody ever sees. It’s high up the bank from the river so I don’t know why it’s on stilts, unless she was worried about snakes getting in, a concern I would have too.

Then was the house where lives the woman who has a PhD. in carnivorous cats and says that the ones at the Carnivore Preservation Land Trust could easily climb the fences and get out, but stay in because they don’t know this. Her husband had tried to get his Scion out earlier that day, but once it left the bare patch of gravel where it had been parked, it’s front drive wheels could not climb up onto the top of the ice layer. So he drove it back to the bare patch and declared he wasn’t going to work the next day.

We were veering too far right, so I had us lean left briefly. We passed close to cars parked along the right, and we were set up poorly for the coming curve. I jammed both heels down harder, thinking again that we should not be doing this.

There came the house Svetx used to live in, with its mildew which activates and blossoms, invisibly, all summer, in closets, behind walls, in shoes; and where, this time of year, the tiny wood stove must be run nearly constantly to barely keep one room warm. Svetx, working late hours, would come home and head directly for the electric blanket, hardly bothering to heat the house. The current residents stay home all day and keep that stove fed.

There came the area of road where we had seen Rascal tearing up a fresh, glistening carcass earlier that day. The frozen remains could have been one of the myriad of bumps rubbing our butts.

The curve was approaching, with the next neighbor laughing from the safety of her dark front porch. Earlier that day she had gouged a bare patch in the ice just in front of her front walkway, nonsensically. This was next to the curb, not really a hindrance to sledders, but still, why had she bothered?

We were close to the right and would be inside on the curve. I would have preferred to have been on the left and then aim for the inside as we entered it, but this was not to happen. A dark wall of trees loomed ahead on the outside of the curve, with that hard curb somewhere at its base. I thought again that I should not be doing this. I could break my arm, and then I would not be able to work. To avoid crashing, we would need to lean hard, but without knowing how much the toboggan would skid, how would we know when exactly?

Just lean. We did, sideways, all the way, with our shoulders dragging ice, practically bailed out of the toboggan altogether. We slowed a lot, more than I wanted, but coming up straight again, we had made the curve and just missed a truck parked on the right. (Later a member of the Paperhand Puppet Intervention complimented us on making a graceful turn. Coming from one of those folks, that means a lot.) We leaned again, straightened, bottomed-out, and did not try to turn into the access road to the mill parking lot. Instead we coasted up toward the left and crunched to a stop behind another pickup truck there. Our blood recollected itself toward our heads because we were reclined backwards now, and as long as the folks on the next run had enough control to not crash into us, it would be easiest to simply lie back the rest of the way and stay for a while.

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