Friday Column: Extreme Hunting

Heartless Bastards baby! They are rocking my world right now.

Dane had an ‘afternoon with the White Stripes’ in the gym yesterday. He and I were debating the merits of Black Math, a few days prior, a song, which, I might argue, is about as hard as a rock and roll song can get. I listened to it several times out running with the dogs in the forest this week. Gets the juices flowing.

I am sat at the kitchen table in the small cabin that Kevin’s parents rented for the weekend adjacent to Elk Mountain. I just made him turn the fire off (it’s gas, so you can do that), because it’s an oven in here. There is a sauna downstairs, but nobody wants go in it naked with me. Kevin is my sister Kaitie’s boyfriend.

Her and I (Kate) were out early this morning on the mountain (if you can call it that. It is only the second time I have skied since our Tahoe trip in college, so I won’t complain. The skiing was remarkably decent). I left the house at 5:58 this morning, two full minutes before I anticipated, and made fabulous time on the highway, despite several patches of zero-visibility fog. I did not have to stop en route. I was early, so took a few runs before Kevin dropped Kate off (only after waiting in line for ten minutes at the rental shop, mentally swearing at myself because I left my poles at home. Rentals were five dollars), and then met her by the American flag outside the lodge. We skied for five solid hours without stopping, enjoying a beautifully sunny morning and a surprisingly snow-covered hill (there wasn’t a trace of it on the road until about five minutes before I got here, which did not bode well). Upper Tunkhannock was all bumped up (!). Until the sun disappeared and it got icy. Little kids practicing their snowplow technique in the moguls kept cutting me off on my last two runs. Then we quit.

I came home from Sweden about two weeks ago now, on a Sunday, to be with my dad at home to help take care of my mom. Ask me sometime and I’ll tell you about her, but I’m not interested in writing about it. It was sad leaving Mia, but sometimes it is okay to be sad for a while. It’s not about us this time around.

Dad encouraged me to come skiing with Kate and Kevin this weekend. I felt slightly guilty, because somebody has to be home all the time, and with me away, that somebody is now dad, who had gotten back into a more or less normal routine with the family business since I came home, precisely the reason for me doing so (mostly). If there is one thing my mom’s health is teaching us, it is to get out and live as much of life as you possibly can. So I came skiing, partly because of that, but partly because it’s also important to keep family as the number one priority, and Kate fits the bill there. Dad was happy to stand in for two days so I could spend some time with my little sister.

I heard a song in the car by Ani DiFranco on XPN called Whose side are you on? Unsurprisingly it was vehemently political, actually calling for some ‘socialism’ in America, which I assume was meant to ruffle some feathers. The chorus asks you to pick a side. Hence the title.

When the dust settles, people need to live with each other. I feel like this sentiment is getting lost in the shuffle, whether in politics now with a looming election, or globally.

During a few of my SFI (‘Swedish for Immigrants’ – or ‘Idiots’, depending on who you asked) courses in January, I was interacting with many folks from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and northern Africa. It’s not difficult to imagine the conversations, which were in Swedish – part of the lesson – and decidedly simplistic, which was the point. I chatted with Makhmoud (from Iraq) and we asked each other the typical introductory questions – where are you from? what do you do for a living? how come you’re in Sweden, etc etc. I touched on this before, but Makhmoud is a refugee, who fled Iraq thanks to the war between America and his own country. We never got into whether or not he fled for fear of his life, for political reasons against the USA, for political reasons against Iraq or whatever. Obviously he fled because of war, but I’m not sure whose side he was on. But I felt oddly uncomfortable in that situation explaining that I had met my Swedish wife on a backpacking trip in New Zealand, and that I was here of my own accord and living more or less in pixieland while my countrymen are killing his ‘brothers’ (and them my countrymen).

That situation was difficult for me to reconcile, and I could not shake my unease. And Makhmoud was one of the most genuine, friendly people I have come across as a stranger, did not seem at all uneasy speaking with an American (a sentiment I have gotten all over the world in fact. Most people I talk to who have a negative opinion of America direct that opinion towards our foreign policy and not our individuals. Kind of the same way American’s who have a negative opinion about America feel. Like there is some greater force at work at home that creates the ‘America’ people disagree with, while the American people abroad generally are well-liked. American’s abroad claiming to be Canadian is just stupid). At the time, it felt inappropriate to even be talking with him (Makhmoud) due to the conflict between our countries. We have to live together when the dust settles. Was I beyond that? Did he think the same thing? Was there resentment? Must we choose a side Ani DiFranco? Or can we freaking work it out on the same side. When a competition creates higher stakes than that of a game or a sport, the consequences of ‘winning’ can be scary. Nobody ever actually wins in real life.

For the weekend I am going to enjoy the skiing and the camaraderie. Kevin just broke out his binder of information he’s collected on the Appalachian Trail. In less than a month he’ll set of from Georgia, walking north, and won’t stop until he gets to Maine. He’s tackling the whole thing in one go, packing forty pounds on his back and making a run for it. His last day of work was on Wednesday, and the boss let him leave early.

I am almost unfathomably envious of him right now – for three years the only thing Mia and I focused on was getting our boat across the Atlantic (and the wedding), and after such a huge summer last year, we’ve sort of reached an anticlimax, a calm period where we don’t quite know what to do with ourselves. There is nothing to plan anymore – it’s suddenly easy to understand why some people never leave the dock.

I had intended on ending this post just there, but I had to add a description of the community game room in this little development of cabins we’re in at Elk, the only place where there is wireless internet (and where Kevin and I had to come just so I can post this online).

There is a small gray building, ‘adjacent to that little white one over there,’ the concierge at the small check-in desk told us. Downstairs is a pool and a hottub where little kids are making noise. Upstairs – where we are – is the actual game room, a place that I think can only possible exist in upstate Pennsylvania. A pool table is the dominant feature of the room, with a small gym (a stationary bike, treadmill and weight machine) at the top of the stairs (no kidding, in the midst of everything, which would be odd if you actually wanted to work out. I imagine it does not get much use). Two skylights provide the ambience, and a pair of ceiling fans hang from the slanted roof. An old jukebox is at the far end of a line of 1990’s era arcade games, including a submarine game called ‘Sea Wolf’ and a shooting game called ‘Extreme Hunting 2: Tournament Edition’ (this game has audio, and every 30 seconds or so a dude comes over a speaker and announces the title of the game). Next to that is a classic Pac-Man machine, a ‘Cruisin’ USA’ (remember that?), a Star Trek pinball machine and finally a change machine for quarters.

On the opposite wall is one of those games that gives away prizes, not dissimilar to the ones with the hook that lets you think you can grab something. Then there is another hunting game (‘Deer Hunting USA’), another shooting game, aptly titled ‘Target: Terror’ (the ‘o’ in Terror has a crosshairs on it). And of course a soda machine (RC Cola!) and a snack machine filled with Fritos corn chips. Actually I just noticed there is one of those hook grabber games, right next to the jukebox. Missed that one.

Kevin and I are sat in white wicker chairs around a round outdoor table you might find adjacent to a pool in summertime. An American flag hangs on the wall behind me over a dusty piano. Last but not least, there is a ‘Love Fever’ machine, where ostensibly two people touch their fingers to a sensor and the machine tells you how hot your love fever is.