(This short story is rated R)
“It’s like this, Five Hundred. You’re approaching one hundred eight miles per hour, maybe one o nine. You’re on these long fucken boards. And they’re wobbling all over the place totally out of control, and then finally they smooth out at about one fucken twelve when you get off the ground, and suddenly everything is velvety and you’re riding cushion of air, like snarly lotion, man,” Gary Stafford, your new boss says.
He’s crouching low, bending over, arms extended as if he is in his downhill racer’s tuck, one hand holding a can of beer. His skin is ruddy, freckled and prematurely wrinkled from many years of sun and wind of skiing. Otherwise, he looks angular, almost teenage from certain angles with sharp, lean features.
You can’t believe you’ve had to take this job. You’re a victim of corporate downsizing at Digital Communications and there isn’t a damned job around in telecommunications, even as a code monkey. They’re outsourcing those to Indians and Pakistanis now, and your buddies who are still “lucky” to be working at Digital Communications complain about the sixty to seventy-hour weeks they have to work since everyone is gone now. DC is getting good press these days because of it’s increased productivity, emerging strongly from the recession.
Screw “increased productivity,” you think, it’s a euphemism for working your employees to the bone. You’ve got bills to pay. The pressure is on to bring home the bacon for your beautiful little girl who is epileptic and needs expensive meds. Your wife is working a few hours at a fabric store, but it hardly makes sense when childcare costs more than she brings in. She’s frayed with everything so uncertain. The COBRA health insurance is expensive as hell and it’s going to run out in three months, now that you’ve been looking for a real job for fifteen months. Maybe Obamacare will help if the idiots who want to take it away get their way. And it would be really nice if you could keep the Beemer, but those payments are eating into the food budget big time now, and if something doesn’t break soon, you’re going to have to just give in.
Gary takes a deep breath. He takes a big swig of beer now that it’s five o’clock. He sits down on one of the five large, unopened containers of white latex paint near the open service door of Persian Rug Emporium, not far from Waweeta Street in the upscale warehouse district downtown.
“So fucken what,” Frank says. He is Gary’s senior employee, with him now for two months. He has been sanding drywall seams in the north gallery addition, which the “Persian” owner has hired this Gary dude to paint. “It don’t mean you actually flew. And even if you did, what the fuck makes you crazy enuf to waste your fucken time and fucken money chasing nothing but your own big fucken assed ego?” Frank grins crookedly and winks at you. He needles Gary all the time. He peels a banana left over from lunch. He’s wearing an Iron Maiden tee shirt and he’s powdery white, head to toe, as if a sack of flour has fallen on him, a ghost revealed. He has been recently released from the county jail—some ninety days ago. He has also spent four years in the State Penitentiary.
“Because, Frank, you want to make it to at least one hundred and forty-three miles per hour, asshole. At least!” Gary says through his teeth. “And because, this fucken arrogant old fucker, Claude Zufferey, this forty-five year old surgeon from Switzerland, set the speed record at one forty two point five in fucken Chile last year and broke my fucken record, and I got to take it back. And two, because the sissies on the fucken prissy Olympic Downhill squad pee their pants thinking of that kind of speed, so fuck them for cutting me. And, C, because of the hill, Jesus, it’s a fucken thing of beauty down by Silverton. A perfect parabolic surface. Velocity Peak. Way above tree line. Speed skiing, man. Because it’s speed skiing…in which you fly.”
“Because it’s speed skiing,” Frank says in a mocking falsetto voice. “In which you fly.” He grins his crooked grin again and flaps his arms. He circles Gary once like a buzzard, which he looks remarkably like. Then he swoops around the case of beer and snags his third. He shakes it hard and pops the top, aiming it out the service doors and sprays a thick stream of beer into the alley. He shakes off the foam, gulps the rest down and tosses the can toward the dumpsters by the back of the building. “Are we having fun yet?” he yells.
“Fuck you, Frank,” Gary says. He shakes his head. Then he turns back you like you understand. He likes you because you’re intelligent and educated. “So like it’s hard to describe, Five Hundred. It’s like, like everything is metallic blue as you drop. You got your speed suit on, stuffed in it. You’re a fat lady in pantyhose. The air pressure is unbelievable, clamping down on your face like this big fucking vice, and you’re just barely holding on.” Gary says. He’s jittery now. All stirred up. “You’re shoving your chin into your knees to reduce the pressure any way you can, just going after speed, but your muscles feel like they’re piano wire and you’re constantly thinking that you’re going to smear down the track, micro-sliced by the corn.” Gary says as he barely sits on the paint container. He bends over again, puts the beer on the concrete floor and assumes the tuck position again:
“And you think smaller. You want to disappear. You start seeing things like, like numbers from the table of periodic elements appearing, just materializing out of nowhere, like dragonflies on some highway in Texas—at sunset—coming at your windshield. But they’re not dragonflies and you’re not in a car. You’re just flying, centimeters off the snow. The track is glaring in bright sun, and you want to become like a hydrogen electron, cruising light speed down the face of your orbit, like a satellite ripping a red seam across the evening sky,” Gary says. He’s shaking now, like a little electrical current is running over his skin. He sits straight up on the five gallon paint container, bouncing his knees. He reaches in his pants pocket and pulls out a Tic Tac box with a torn label and pops one in his mouth. Frank says, “Hey, give me one a them too, Speedy.”
Gary he shakes his head and flips him off. He looks at the ground and says after a long pause, “And then, and then when you hit the speed trap at one forty, you’re seeing your fucken old lady, Ms. Sally Rippy, the Sally Rippy of the Revlon shampoo commercials who won bronze in the bumps two years ago, the bitch who you were really skiing for the last three seasons, and she’s in bed with Paul Parker, rich daddy’s boy FIS silver medalist, that goddamned sonofabitch. He pauses and quickly shakes this out of his mind. He blinks several times and he’s pumping his legs nervously again.
“But then you realize you’re on the fucken hill and you’re a fucken scream half way out your throat. You’re a bullet with gunpowder packed up your ass with the hammer coming down.” He starts to laugh. Hysterically. “You’re a trouthead, with fins on your calves, shooting down the falls,” Gary Stafford says. He leans back like an outlaw and chugs the rest of his beer. “Fuck you, Paul Parker!”
He throws the can across the long, dark cement expanse of the receiving area of the Persian Rug Emporium, over the fork lift, past the huge bay doors that are open to the warm summer air, and the beer can crashes perfectly into one of the fifty-five gallon barrels that serve as trash containers.
This guy interviewed you in a tiny studio apartment on the north side of town, this guy who likes to push limits. He has a lot of energy and a certain charm. He actually has accomplished something, a member of the Olympic team, it seems, if he’s telling the truth.
On the morning you “interviewed” for the “position” that you saw on Craig’s List, there was a gleaming candy apple red Chevy Impala on tiny tires parked on the street outside his apartment complex, with tuck and rolled white vinyl seats and a blue fuzz dash. There were a couple big trucks with Mexican plates and fringe hanging in the windshield. Finally, you saw a little white Ford truck with a magnetic sign of his painting company stuck cockeyed on the door, SpeedPainting.
(To Be Continued…)