While it can’t be said anyone actually invented this particularly devilish form of torture, I imagine those who take great delight in devising methods of tormenting people would certainly appreciate it. For starters, it is both self-inflicted and created by the very people it drives to the brink of personal breakdown. It requires nothing more than time, place and mindset. The actual mechanism occurs as naturally as morning follows night. And the pièce de résistance is this: the very few times it isn’t inflicted just makes its inevitable return that much harder to bear.
The spirit-crushing torture is, of course, the Opening Week Dance. In many ski towns the torture is waiting for snow that stubbornly refuses to show up. While this is not an unknown occurrence here, more often, in Whistler, it’s waiting for that perfect combination of moisture and temperature. When there’s enough moisture—biblical rain in this case—the temp seems always to spike to rain-to-the-top highs. When the temp drops enough to turn rain into snow, the friggin’ sun comes out. We watch satellite maps as each developing storm sweeps our way hoping maybe this one will slip in under the irony curtain and meet up with enough cold to make the hurt go away. We are anguished in disappointment and fooled not by calling a Pineapple Express an Atmospheric River.
We devise distractions. We wax skis and boards but that distraction grows old by late November. We work ourselves to exhaustion hoping this will be the season we start in tip-top shape. We volunteer, a feeble form of sublimation. We imbibe. We over-imbibe. We read, we dream, we play games.
Some years ago, while I bided my time supporting a dearly departed wife in a room full of people receiving chemotherapy, there was a contingent of people who, rather than be morbid about their condition, told jokes, engaged in idle chatter and sometimes played a game about their pending afterlife. If that sounds morbid, it didn’t seem so at the time.
Based on a then-popular bestseller, it involved distracting your brain and entertaining others in the room discussing the five people you hope you meet in heaven. The First Derivative of the game is extolling the shortcomings of the five people you most hope you don’t meet in heaven. Not surprisingly, many people find it easier to choose people they never, ever want to see again, in heaven or anywhere else.
You’d think this game is a stretch for a guy who doesn’t believe in heaven—or believes he already lives in heaven—but it’s not about religious mythology and even atheists can play. It’s a GAME; lighten up. I’ll start.
While it may be topical with the buzz about midterm elections south of the border—yes, I know they’re a year away—and the possibility of electing a certain former president with hideous hair and multiple criminal investigations into his activities, I’d have to say high on my list would be him and most of the syndicate he surrounded himself with. I’ll count them all as one since it’s hard to tell them apart without numbers across their chests. I can’t imagine any of them would qualify for heaven but I wouldn’t want to spend a minute of eternity near any of them. It would be a sure sign I was in the wrong place.
One of the last people I ever hope to see again is my fifth grade teacher. So full of insight into how one might motivate young, inquisitive minds was she that she dragged me out of class one day. Uncertain what I’d done, but feeling guilty nonetheless, I stood in horror as she accused me of having conned one of my parents into writing a book report I’d actually written. Her reasoning? Fifth graders couldn’t write that well. I was speechless, a state she interpreted as further proof I couldn’t have written what I did. She inspired me to avoid people like her and I hope to make good on that inspiration even after I die.
I don’t ever want to meet up with the moron who worked at the big sports department store in Toronto who sold me my first pair of ski boots. Being a neophyte skier but knowing the importance of having my own boots, I let him con me into a pair of Salomon rear-entry abominations. May he and whoever designed those slippers rot in hell.
The fourth person I never want to run into in heaven is the first big-time magazine editor I had the misfortune to work with. His deft hand at editing was almost as encouraging as my disbelieving fifth grade teacher. What came out of his sausage grinder bore only remote resemblance to what I’d written. It was tepid, without voice and about as interesting as the white pages of a phone book. If I’d understood I could actually do it, I’d have demanded he replace my name with his.
The final person I really never want to meet in the afterlife is Ullr. I don’t know if the Norse gods are in heaven or Valhalla—or if those are just different names for the same place—but any god I’ve cursed as much as I’ve cursed Ullr is one god I don’t want to meet up with on his home turf. Probably hang defective wings on me for a joke.
On the other hand, one of the first people I’d really like to meet up with in heaven is the man most responsible for my overwhelming happiness. A former executive at the bank I escaped from, he had a hatred for me I never fully understood but never did much to overcome. When his chance to destroy my career finally presented itself, he took it. Unknown to him, I’d been racking my brain trying to come up with a scheme that would both let me quit and walk away with a severance. It was his blind hatred that let me realize that dream and I’m certain if he ever fully understood his role in the launch of my most successful ski bum career it would be his own private hell.
While my choices may seem prosaic, I’m reasonably certain heaven is itself a pretty prosaic place. Truth be told, most interesting people will likely end up in hell… but that’s another game. One to be played during the next deluge.