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Maxed Out

Misadventures and the Greased Pig

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Misadventure and cross-country skiing seem to be closely linked concepts in my experience. I think it may have something to do with owning ankles that require stiff, downhill ski boots to keep from folding up like a cheap hide-a-bed.

Having said that, I may be in the market for new skinny skis… or as I think of them, sweaty skis. I left my old ones buried in the storage shed when I moved recently. They were richly deserving of a decent burial and, not having seen the light of day for several years, I thought it cruel to disturb them in their final resting place.

My cross-country skis were very old. In another lifetime, I bought them in Montreal at Canadian Tire, or Le Tire Canadienne, as it’s known there. I couldn’t buy skis at an actual ski shop in Montreal in the late ’70s because I couldn’t find one where anyone would speak to me in English. Gibberish being my only other language, I was reduced to buying skis — and almost everything else — at Canadian Tire because at least in the West End of Montreal, Canadian Tire hadn’t yet knuckled under to the draconian language laws of the Parti Quebecois, known in the West End as le Parti d’Idiot.

Buying cross-country skis was not my idea. As was true of so many misadventures during those years, it was the idea of my wife, who, having come up with enough bone-headed ideas like cross-country skiing to make it abundantly clear we each married the wrong person, is now my ex-wife.

She believed it would be “good” for us to engage in a brisk winter sport. I believed it would be “better” for us to move to Hawaii. She won that argument.

When I finally made it out to Canadian Tire to buy cross-country skis, an adenoidal kid who looked like he’d spent too much time in front of an industrial french-frier pointed to the back of the store and said, “Ask for Jackrabbit.”

Jackrabbit turned out to be a chain-smoking, three hundred pound mechanic who was selling skis because he’d thrown his back out and couldn’t do brakes and shocks, his chosen profession. It was immediately clear Jackrabbit knew a lot more about brakes and shocks than skis but what little he knew was more than what I knew and that, coupled with somehow knowing my wife insisted I buy skis, gave him the upper hand.

Jackrabbit, of course, invoked the memory, if not the image, of Herman “Jackrabbit” Johannsen, the legendary cross-country skier who single-handedly revived a sport so close to dying it took on cult-like status once it started to regain followers. Jackrabbit Johannsen got his nickname in the 1920s when he organized Hare and Hound races for the Montreal Ski Club. He was generally the “hare” and was rarely caught. His speed and agility on skis earned him the name Jackrabbit. Jackrabbit the Mechanic, on the other hand, may have more appropriately been nicknamed Greased Pig on account of his abundant girth and his casual affiliation with personal hygiene.

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