On the patio, enjoying the momentary reprieve from our recent biblical rain, watching a dark, end-of-the-world bank of clouds consume the landscape west of us, the vanguard of yet another storm front holding the hint of a promise of face-shots sometime in the near future, but more likely to erase what little snow has fallen in a torrent of floodwater, I lamented the utter failure of yet another piece of so-called waterproof/breathable outerwear. That, of course, was just a diversion, something I focused on to take my mind off my complete and utter lack of preparedness for whatever this ski season has in store for me.
I'd rocketed carefully down the available terrain on Blackcomb in what can only be described as a careful approximation of control. Rock skis I hadn't skied on in years seemed to sense my indifference towards scraping their bases over barely hidden rocks and reciprocated by tracking as though they had a mind of their own. A wandering mind. An imprecisely focused mind. A mind less cognizant of reality than the Baboon-in-Chief south of the border—indifferent to fact and short of attention span.
Surviving the season, I decided, meant admitting defeat and resigning myself to the fact my horribly misshapen ankle was not yet rehabilitated enough for skiing. Such a bleak prospect deserved extra careful consideration, hence the patio and a refreshing IPA from a semi-local brewery. Perhaps two.
My mind wandered, ping-ponging between hope for the future and a dystopian vision of banana trees growing in Rainbow park. The least promising start to the season in, what? Fifteen years! I know I was here then but like so many traumatic events, any memories of the season's start in 2003 have obviously been repressed so deeply a shrink would need the mental-health version of the jaws of life to bring it to the surface. Wandering in the miasma of hope and despair, I never saw it, er, him, coming.
Oh no, I thought.
Peeking under the bill of my cap, into the low-angle sunlight, I saw him shambling towards me, a back-lit apparition of hallucinogenic proportions. Half for the weirding-out effect it had on people, and half because dumpster divers can't be too picky about their wardrobe, J.J. Geddyup looked like something out of a margarita-fueled nightmare. Ratty Deerstalker hat, Peruvian sweater with corduroy patches tearing loose at each elbow, skin-tight, faded blue, padded stretch ski-racer pants and snowboard moon boots, J.J. could have been a skid-row paper doll dressed by a colour-blind, mentally deranged two year old.
"J.J.," I said, waving at the chair next to me. "Sit down before I get dizzy looking at that outfit."
He shook out a couple of Gauloise Blues as he sat and offered me one, knowing I'd prefer to just throw blazing tobacco into my mouth than suck on one of those foul, French cigarettes, equal parts D-grade tobacco, floor sweepings and the best dried Turkish camel dung.
"Ah, no thanks. And in case those synapses aren't working, you haven't been able to smoke here since that horrible season 15 years ago."
"Oh, yeah. Fookin' nanny state."
"So, whatcha up to these days, J.J.? Haven't seen you since ... can't actually remember the last time. Back working for The Company?"
"Where'd you hear that?" he said, looking serious. "I don't do work for the Company any more."
J.J., Whistler's only private eye and way too scary a guy to actually consider a friend—but even scarier to think of as an enemy—had alluded to his past involvement with American intelligence types over the years I'd known him but always seemed particularly uncomfortable at the suggestion he might still be taking on the odd job.
"Yeah, OK. You up on the mountain today?" I dropped the subject.
"No, man. It was the weirdest thing. I was about to go up and some dude in a mountain uniform stopped me. I thought they might have clued into my homemade pass but that wasn't it. He asked if I wanted a free lift ticket. I said 'Sure.' He said I'd have to be part of a focus group for a couple of hours."
"They must not have been very particular about who they were focusing on," I said. "You're not exactly Vail's target market, you know. What'd they want to find out?"
"There were half a dozen of us. We went up to the big building at Base II, down some stairs, along a long hallway and into some secret looking room with hard chairs and two-way mirrors. I thought the dude lied to me and I really was busted but then some happy-face consultant came out and started describing programs to us, asking us what we thought."
"What kind of programs?"
"Stuff the mountain's thinking of doing to stand out since it doesn't have the butt-kicking snow yet this season. High-touch stuff to pamper the wankers. Things that don't rely on waist-deep snow."
"You won't believe some of this stuff, dude. Bucklers."
"Yeah. Guys who wander around and buckle your boots for you. Like porky boomers who can't bend over to buckle their boots without almost passing out. They'd have some guys who'd come over to do the buckles for them. Real valet-like, you know?"
"Humm, I like it. Nice if they'd unbuckle 'em too. Hope you mentioned that angle. What else?"
"Guys," everyone's a guy to J.J., "who'll do your shopping for you while you ski. Especially at Christmas but even the rest of the year, people need to get souvenirs and gifts, so they'd do like a small questionnaire about who they needed a gift for and how much they wanted to spend and some guy would go around to the mountain's shops and get stuff and bring it back to their hotel all wrapped up."
"The mind reels. What else."
"Ski dates. Like a computer dating thing for singles at the resort."
"Stop. I don't even want to hear about that one. Haven't they heard of Tinder?"
"Don't know. But how about an oxygen bar at the Rendezvous and the Roundhouse?"
"The mountains aren't that freakin' high, J.J."
"So what. It's very chic. Flavoured oxygen."
"Tell me you're kidding. Was there more."
"My personal favourite. Ski school for pets."
"Ski school for pets. Like, why should you just shove Fido or Fluffy in a kennel when you go on vacation? Don'tcha think they'd like the mountains too?"
"Oh God. There's more, isn't there?"
"Just gettin' started."
"Tell me later, man. I can't handle it right now. I'm outta here."
"Hey," he yelled after me, "Hey, I haven't told you about the squeegee kids in the parking lot idea yet."