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Published: February 11th 2009
Growing Pains...Friday 23rd January to Saturday 7th February, 2009
Over the edge of the Big Bear Log Chute.
If Christmas, the 405 Freeway and American Beaurocracy are up there in my top ten list of life’s pet dislikes then there is one other thing that is pushing them hard for the coveted number one spot. The ageing process. Quite why the Good Lord, or the natural world if believing is not your thing deems it necessary to counter-balance the positives of knowledge accumulation and the experiencing of different life situations with the heading southwards of all things bodily is anyone’s guess. The question why is irrelevant, it just happens, providing a surefire way no matter how well things seem to be going of bringing you back down to earth with a bump.
Growing old gracefully, for me at least is made so much harder due to the mind’s refusal to keep apace with the body in the deterioration stakes. Whilst my mind seems to be infinitely jammed between my late twenties and early thirties the body refuses to play ball making no attempt to disguise its advancing years. As if the ever increasing appearance of grey ones and the impossible to halt middle age spread aren’t enough I now
invariably find a rise from a sitting position to be accompanied by an audible groan and a two mile run frequently give cause to feel in need of one or several forms of corrective medical treatment ranging from straightforward hip replacement to foot, knee, calf or back surgery as my mere existence turns into a seemingly endless procession of aches and pains.
The weekend gave us another reminder us of our onset of years as Friday 23rd January signified the 48th anniversary of Phil’s birth although admittedly this in itself gave me a slight fillip, once again for the time being at least placing me three years behind him. Forty eight, hard to believe I know, he certainly doesn’t look nor come to think of it act it although I find myself asking the question with increasing regularity how and why there isn’t a single grey hair on his head. Pure freakish good fortune or a slight case off dirt in the pocket ball tampering ?!
The does he/doesn’t he question regularily comes up in our banter and whilst he strenuously denies unnatural interference of any kind I swear I occasionally notice a slight blushing of his cheeks
Fresh and Easy !
when I catch him off his guard, a blushing that could reveal a tad more truth than he’d like.!
A small group of us, Dan, Lisa 2, Nigel, his daughter Alex and the girls celebrated the occasion with a meal at The Madison, an upmarket restaurant housed in a majestic former bank building in downtown Long Beach; all murals, oak panelled walls, chandeliers and eighty foot ceilings but unfortunately accompanied by all the atmosphere of a redundant morgue. We were given menu’s and shown to the table and I’d just about had time to gulp and re-salivate my drying mouth having seen the extortionate menu prices when the maitre’D approached us and introduced himself.
He was in his early thirties, brash, cocky, full of wisecracks and smarmier than a tub of axle grease, totally out of character of such a grandoise venue. He would have been more at home juggling bottles serving behind a cocktail bar, the sort of guy who’d made me question twelve months ago if I would actually want to live in the USA. The menu prices hadn’t helped my mood, 36 dollars for a couple of lamb chops prior to the addition of any
And what a cake.
accompaniments but I have to admit I took an instant dislike to him and so found it difficult to disguise my mirth when half an hour into the evening he twisted the cork from the second bottle of wine and started pouring.
“Did anyone taste that wine ?” Phil enquired as his glass was topped up
Initially, in a poorly disguised panic and realizing his error the waiter responded positively, a quite obvious blatant lie before quickly realizing he could be digging himself a deeper hole and admitting his mistake.
“It’s okay, it’s the same wine as the last one” he squirmed twisting the bottle as he cradled it to expose the label to birthday boy who understandably wasn’t impressed.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s the same wine or not, it could still be a bad bottle”.
An embarrassed silence fell over the table as the waiter looked for the nearest stone to crawl under. The embarrassment thankfully ensured his presence was greatly reduced for the remainder of the evening until he returned a couple of hours later, seemingly having fully recovered his cock sureness with the bill. I’d ordered an Irish coffee twenty minutes
Top of the world.
earlier which still hadn’t surfaced and as he approached the table he for reasons unknown handed the bill to me with the simple words “And this sir, I think, will be for you”
“Not if it hasn’t got an Irish coffee on it isn’t” I immediately replied
That retort produced an even better response than Phil’s as without a word and with his tail firmly tucked between his legs he simply about turned and disappeared in the direction of the bar to fetch my drink. The tip, needless to say was kept to an absolute bare minimum.
The following night was spent in as far removed a setting from the Madison as could possibly be imagined, a Combichrist gig at the Avalon just off Hollywood Boulevard followed by a night on the town sampling the glitzy nightlife of Hollywood and on Sunday morning as we headed for home along Sunset looking for somewhere to eat breakfast and to shake off the cobwebs we accidentally happened across a legendary Hollywood icon.
Dating back to the 1920’s and originally built as an apartment block in the style of a French castle Chateau Marmont is renowned around the world
Birthday dinner at The Madison.
as a hang out come hideout for the rich and famous. Led Zeppelin apparently rode their motor bikes through the lobby although judging by the size of it that particular ride must have taken all of three seconds and John Belushi spent his final minutes having overdosed in one of the poolside bungalows. It’s sheer medieval presence, arches, turrets and towers perched on the bottom of Hollywood Hill was enough to draw us in and despite paying 50 dollars each for a perfectly ordinary omelette and three bottles of beer sat in the secluded sunny gardens with neither sight nor sound of celebrity we deemed it worth every cent.
Work at FE has thankfully slowly but surely been improving. I seem to have now been accepted as one of the team and in a bid to further familiarize myself with operations I suggested to my boss Angus that a few site visits would be invaluable to further my understanding of the processes adopted out here. He agreed and so on Thursday morning I was up early (5.30am) to catch the first flight out of Orange County, destination Las Vegas.
Vegas is a misnomer. Despite it’s reputation as the
Hollywood glamour pusses.
glitz and glamour capital of the world stray a couple of hundred yards away from the dazzling lights of the ‘Strip’ and it can at best be described as an ugly shithole. Like most places in the States it is currently in the midst of crippling recession, the rate of it’s growth over the last twenty years ensuring it has been harder hit than other towns, a brown town with brown buildings located in the middle of a brown desert and populated by more boarded up deserted shopping centres than I’ve ever seen.
Unemployment is at an unhealthy high and only likely to get worse and according to our guide for the day, property developer John it is behind only New Orleans, still searching for law and order in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as the second most dangerous City in the US, not quite Tijuana but bad enough. As we drove through the suburbs I could see why, losing count of the number of residents from south of border who aimlessly walked the streets with shopping trolleys full of their lifetime belongings. Returning home that evening to the relative splendour of Long Beach was quite a relief.
Does he or doesn't he ? Birthday boy with his choccie grand piano cake.
The rest of the week was spent looking forward to the forthcoming visit of my li’l old mum Margy interspersed Friday evening with a false alarm heart attack of next door neighbour and thanksgiving host Jeff which turned out to be a simple case of passing out on the commode due to the over exertion involved with passing a huge stool and Super Bowl Sunday, a national party where the whole country, including yours truly of course retires to the pub to watch the final game of the season. And what a game it was.
Working for a company such as FE certainly has its perks and the day before Margy’s arrival I was up super early to rendezvous with colleagues at the FE offices for the two and a half hour drive to Big Bear Mountain in the San Bernadino National Park. Evergreen, one of four Developers used by FE were hosting their annual ski weekend and had kindly put me on the invite list.
Accommodation was in the form of a wonderfully cosy log cabin owned by company owner Chris complete with outdoor Jaccuzi, games room and over stocked pantry and booze cupboard and having been greeted
with a hearty filling breakfast we headed for the slopes.
My previous three days skiing had all ended in agony due to ill fitting rented footwear but today I was lucky enough to find a Cinderella pair that fitted so snugly that they ensured the act of getting down the mountain was a pleasure. Up to now I’d always associated skiing with intense pain but today was different and the sport took on a whole new meaning ensuring my first purchase when I returned home would be my very own pair of boots.
After a night of good food and even better wine the following morning was a return to the more familiar. Shipped to the slopes from the car park crammed into open backed trucks like inmates of Auschwiz it seemed half of California had arrived in Big Bear overnight to accompany the ten inches of snow that had fallen and whereas getting kitted out the previous day was a two minute doddle Saturday involved a frustrating one and a half hour queue ensuring I'd lost all my colleagues by the time I emerged at 10.30am with my feet already starting to ache.
Without my phone
which had inadvertently been soaked in water earlier in the week there was no chance, unless lady luck intervened of me ever finding my companions again but as I was leaving at lunchtime to head home to meet Margy I had no time to waste so headed straight up the mountain alone and after two painful runs joined the queue for the lifts back up.
In front of me was a guy with his two young daughters and I happily agreed to his request to accompany his eight year old, Nicole, on the chair lift to the top of the mountain. As we waited to board father stepped forward with his youngest, sat back as the chair approached and then held on tight to her wrist in horror as her little legs completely failed to lift her onto the seat. By the time the lift operator had had chance to press the halt button the chair was fifteen feet in the air and the little girl was swinging precariously by one arm, saved only from a potentially hazardous fall to earth by her fathers tight grip like one of those heartstopping movie moments shot on the edge of a
cliff. A scary moment and one that Nicole and I joked about once her sister had finally been safely been brought down to earth.
Nicole and I boarded our chair without incident and as we rose through the snow covered pines she told me all about herself, how she had skied since she was two years old and how she was really looking forward to her sledging the following day, a delightful young child full of excitement and happiness. Getting onto the lift had also provided temporary relief from the discomfort of the boots as my feet hung freely without pressure and as we approached the alighting station I turned to Nicole and joked,
“Otto, this is the bit I don’t like”.
She concurred so we swiftly agreed on a plan that would see us head in opposite directions when we touched down, me to the right her to the left and as our feet touched the snow I stuck to my part of the bargain. Unfortunately, Nicole's ski's somehow crossed mine causing her to involuntarily follow, almost as if stuck to me with superglue as we made a slow sweeping snowplough arc with more than a
hint of Torville and Dean's Bolero in the general direction of the large metal stanchion that supported the lift.
Fortunately the post was wrapped in thick padding in the manner of a rugby post to prevent injury to incompetent's like us so at the moment of a soft and painless impact we were simply stopped dead in our tracks before slowly listing to the side and careering to the ground like a felled 500 year old oak. It was unfortunate for Nicole that she was the first to hit the ground as moments later 185lbs of helpless human being landed with full force on top of her squeezing every last breath of wind out of her tiny body as it landed.
Not having managed to break my fall in any way other than by using Nicole as a crash mat I was concerned for her well being and as I lay prone on top of her made immediate enquiry how she was. At first I was unsure if it was the pain of the fall or the stench of my alcohol tinged breath from the previous nights partying which caused it but my enquiry was greeted with a
No hard feelings. The crying finally stops in the recovery room.
blank open mouthed look of shock and surprise which a split second of realization later turned into the loudest, highest pitched squealing cry I have ever heard. All around the mountain heads turned to see what all the commotion was and saw my helpless form completely smothering the small child as I struggled to lift my weight off her. God only knows what they thought.
I considered smothering her mouth with my gloved hand and shushing her with the finger of my other hand if only to negate the distinct possibility of an avalanche as I struggled to lift myself but her father was making his way towards us. Fortunately he'd seen everything and thankfully opportioned no blame to me whatsoever but concerned I waited as in what seemed like seconds later the medics arrived on a snow bike.
Things got worse. Suddenly I heard a call of my name and realized my colleagues had as one alighted the lift and spotted me so I then had to explain to them how I’d nearly accidentally killed the innocent young child who was still bawling and still being attended to by the mountain first aiders. Come Monday morning would
Lunch at Chateau Marmont.
whispers of 'child abuser' be circulating around the office ? Having checked with the dad everything was okay I was just about to ski off to join my friends when one of the officials who'd had attended the scene approached and skidded to a halt.
“I’m going to have to ask you to come down with me to fill in an incident report. What type of skier are you ?”. I suddenly felt as though I was guilty as charged and being placed under arrest.
“Crap” I answered attempting to ease the tension before adding “but I think I’ll get down okay”
He was a miserable, humorless man but my ski style must have impressed him on the first couple of hundred yards because he showed no apprehension in turning off the main intermediate slope and heading down the log chute, the forty five degree most direct descent down the mountain that up to that point I’d thankfully managed to avoid. As we slowed at the top of the drop I let out a hang gliding Del Boy Trotter "Oh my God, oh my bloody hell" before closing my eyes, pushing off and heading over the top.
It was scary not to mention very painful but I somehow got down unscathed and in one piece and having filled out the form and checked with Nicole, by sat up on one of the many beds that furnished the room took one more painful run before checking in the bar and finding the rest of my party relaxing supping beer and stuffing their faces.
An hour later I was heading down the mountain in the much preferable warmth and comfort of the Jeep on the way back to Long Beach. Margy was on her way down into LAX and I was off to meet her.
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