American Portraits: The Gondolier

American Portraits: A Gentleman Host
April 30, 2013
American Portraits: Lord of the Dance
May 3, 2013

Sometimes the snow falls backwards in the mountains, confused rushes of blinding white driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Most people battle the wintry chaos with thick-cut scarves, breakfasts of thick-cut bacon, steaming carafes of chocolate-tinged coffee, and mittens thicker than downy pillows. But others stand impervious, nodding with red-blistered smiles to onlookers as they wile away the day in wet, battering cold.

Timothy was that way. A peculiar 20-something with graying blond hair, too young for retired mountain living, too old for teenage piddling. He was the gondolier at one small, little-known ski run in the recesses of a mountain town, and between the hours of 8am and the setting of the sun, he would stand guard at the rotating lift. His right hand tugged at a lever to stop, lurched it forward in rusty creaking to go. And in between he would make the smallest small talk skiers could barely stand.

“Cold out today, no? I mean, it’s always cold,” he laughed, only a little at himself. “But particularly today. I think I heard something like 15 degrees. For a high. Wouldn’t think that in April, would ya?” Onlookers would stare, unwilling to engage. They wouldn’t really listen, either—just peer out from the bindings of their winter clothes and wonder what made an icicle of a man stuck in the cold so absolutely, disgustingly social.

“I remember one time, when I was about 12, and I was out herding up the horses, cuz I lived in Montana you see, and that’s a very different place from here, and anyway, there were horses I was looking for, and it was nigh on freezing out there and I was worried about one of the horses getting caught out all night, just thinking about him freezing and not having anywhere to go, you know—” As he mumbled and stuttered on, chairs raced by. Skiers  painfully pretending patience, nodded toward the lever and finally, Timothy would think to stop the lift for a moment so that someone could get on.

“—oh gosh! Sorry, I didn’t know where my mind was carrying me off to, got off to thinking about home again you see, and anyway, well you have a good ride down the mountain and watch out you don’t run into any wild animals or raccoons or kids or nothing, k?” Finally, a handful of frigid skiers ascended the mountain and Timothy would turn his eye to the next group—the next rag-tag, sorry looking bunch. The line stretched 50-people deep.

This went on, and on, and on until the sun dimmed, the ice thickened, and Timothy was talking only to himself.

When the crowds thinned and the lift was shut down, Timothy pieced together the few things he had brought—a lean wallet with a few dollars for a candy bar he never purchased, a three-month-old bottle of water he kept refilling from the tap, and a glistening silver key. With bright red, skeletal hands, he rubbed his palms together and ambled down to the gates where the bus came, which took him through the little town with a comic book store, by Mr. Johnson’s pentagonal bungalow, through the fields where the deer run, to home on a hill by dark.

He knocked at the door, his fingers so cold he couldn’t feel. Grams answered in a faded purple gown, greasy blue slippers on her gnarled feet, a cigarette hanging on her lips, and her face bent in a scowl. They nodded to each other, not speaking, and Timothy went straight downstairs to a quiet little closet of a room at the back of the house. On its walls were crinkled magazine clippings of families on the slopes—black ones, white ones, short ones, tall ones, big ones, small ones, gay ones, straight ones. Broken ones. He picked up a comic book—Superman—and crawled beneath the covers of his bed, still fully clothed. Shivering still from a day of cold that crawled beneath his pale skin, he eyed the pictures and flipped the pages until his eyes collapsed in merciful thaw and sleep. That night, he dreamed: some day, in the unthinkable autumn sun, he would be able to ski with brothers at his back.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.