Sunday, February 26, 2006

Toaster Oven

You don't want to be that guy.

Your last break up occurred two weeks after you joined the Team in Training cross country ski season to train for skiing fifty kilometers in Alaska. She dumped you after a hike in the headlands just north of San Francisco. Her parting reason, "We just don't have chemistry," haunts you through Thanksgiving luncheon and the early rounds of Christmas parties.

You think you have what it takes for making through the winter. You went to a college were winter was almost a major. Karl Swenson, the Olympian who graduated the year behind you, is gifted cross country skier. And even though you didn’t know him at the time, you must have ate at the same dining halls, gone to the same parties, and trudged across the snow covered green at some point. Granted he was probably much faster.

You rally. There is a girl a track practice you notice when she bends her left hamstring. You start to forget about the breakup. She is cute in a way that youth forgives mistakes. There is an attractiveness to potential that most men cherish over mileage however interesting. She is young enough to be a snowboarder instead of a skier and has grown up post grunge era instead of the post new wave one. And if there was ever were anyone who could help with not having enough chemistry, it should be the girl with the chemical engineering degree from M.I.T.

You ask her is she wants to go running along Crissy fields with ski poles. She is occupied that weekend.

She isn't beautiful in a magazine cover sense unless the magazine was "Outside." But there is something about a woman who is up for adventurous weekends, someone who perhaps never looks brilliant by the stern light of a cocktail party but is wondrous in the soft haze of a ski cabin mornings. You believe the best pheromones for the human race is enthusiasm for women and confidence for men. She has such joy.
Your friends set up you on a couple of blind dates but fail each time to mention that both of your dates are five years older than you and nice in a non-conversional sense. One just lost eighty pounds. The other really loved Ronald Reagan. You miss the chemist snowboarder.

You go up to the Sierra's to train with the cross-country ski team. You try to figure out how to ride up with her, but wind up getting stuck with someone who spends a lot time with her grandmother and is starting to merge into her the way that owners start to look like their pets.

You are in the same ski pace group as the chemist and when you see her in the first post Christmas practice she apologizes for being busy during the holidays. "Don't worry about it," you tell her. You do a loop together on the flat stretch called runway. Her natural artic grace came from a childhood in Maine. She glides when she skate skies. It looks effortless, but when you try to the same side to side motion you almost fall.

You ask her out to dinner on voice mail and she never gets back to you. She misses dry land training the next week.

You don’t want to be the guy who keeps calling all the time.

Your mother gives you the email address of someone you should contact for a date. She was widowed a year ago, and your mom is a friend with her ex in-laws. You spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to write "the ask out" letter that doesn’t contain the phrases "my mother thinks" or “your dead husband" You come up with something about adventures, but the widow never writes back.

The chemist lost her two front teeth in a kayak accident just over a year ago and wears braces as she goes through months of reconstructive dental surgery. It is the flaw that makes her seem plausible, that she really could go out with someone like you.

You want to cheer Karl Swenson when he races in Italy. You are enraptured by the idea that someone your age could still be an Olympian. You know that the US cross-country team is doomed; in the history of the Olympics the United States has one silver medal, but you want to believe in the underdog. That just perhaps on a frozen day across thirty miles in the Italian Alps, something amazing could happen. It is the same distance that you are training for in Alaska, and you know that even though the television will focus on ice skating the motto of the games is "stronger, higher, faster" and not "theme music, teddy bears, and sequins." Skiing is the winter sport and you want to believe that there are still miracles left in the Olympics. There must be miracles someplace.

The chemist had the flu and returned to the dry land training sessions. You do "F is for Fireman", "Mr. Incredible," and "Angry Cowboy" drills to work abductor muscles. You are a naturally faster runner than she is and when it comes times to do 800 meter repeats around the track, she does her laps with a tall, lumbering guy.

He sold his company a few years ago and now has an assistant to help him figure out how to spend his idle time. After ski season he wants to buy a plane and learn how to fly. They run side by side up the stairs. She must have learnt about how he wants to make a statue. He has a group in India that will do the carving for him. Nice in a bear like fashion, he organizes the rental cabins. She gives him the nickname "Crater" after a mark he left in snow.

She gave you the nickname "Animal" for your Muppet approach to attacking hills. What you lack in form you gain in fury. Distance skiing is about timing the rage. Hills are a safe place to let things go, but you still need to keep your passions on a leash or you have nothing left for later hills.

You send her a valentine email with ASCII characters in the form of a snow boarder. She compliments you at track practice and then runs with other guy. He invited her to the symphony, and they will drive up late Friday to a house he has rented for the group. He has season tickets and loves the opera. His assistant has been arranging things.

You learn that Karl Swenson dropped out of the 50k race. He has a head cold, and there won’t be that many miracles this winter.

You see Crater and the chemist together for the last trip to Tahoe before the race. He wears a retainer and somehow everything makes sense in a dental hygiene perspective. They have a place with a hot tub with a few other friends, and they ask you stay.

You can almost see the future now. You can see them dining well together for a year and then sometime after the next winter is over, maybe in the Alps or maybe in the Andes he will ask. You will be the common friend, the one that can sit on either side of the chapel. You will buy them a new toaster oven as a gift.

It is just that you don’t really want to be the toaster oven guy.

You say thanks, but you need to take care of things at sea level for a while.

The race in Alaska is a week away. The current weather is minus one with a strong possibility of a snowstorm, an Alaskan snowstorm. You remember that at less than zero your nose freezes when you breathe in. You lay out your gear from the race but still make one last panic trip to REI. You want to be a brave winter warrior. You want to be that guy.