Tonight in my humble Chicago neighborhood the first snow fell, filling me with a bright white kind of joy. The joy happens every year, despite the fact that I try not to feel during Winter. Why? Because Winter feelings, once I let them out, are much worse than those of Spring and Summer. A gray essence spread through my veins: the slow cold creep of death, due in twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years...but tonight I felt like sledding.
First of all, I don't have a sled, and that
is a fundamental life mistake. I could easily keep a plastic saucer-sled in the trunk of my car. For fuck's sake, I keep a coffee-maker in there. And when do I ever use that coffee-maker? (The answer is occasionally.) And what's a plastic saucer-sled, like ten bucks? Fifteen? $3.99? It's affordable. But, then again, sledding is a whole lot more fun with a friend or an acquaintance.
"Well," I thought, "there must be a thousand people in this city who feel like I do. It's probability."
So I did a Google search. And I found a Chicago sledding club called "Protracted Adolescents for the Love of Sledding" (PALS). No joke. I aspire to be a protracted adolescent, so I called them up, and their first annual sledding event was open to the public for only $75, transportation included. I agreed to meet them at Montrose and Lake Shore Drive, but, in retrospect, I wonder why I agreed to that since transportation was supposed to be included.
I got there. I parked. I waited on the corner. From the west came seven or eight people clad in white snowsuits and carrying toboggans, saucer-sleds, bladed wooden sleds, and a black plastic Batman sled with red hand-brakes. This last one was tied securely to the back of a rather large, plain woman. Her two attendants, despite carrying more sled-weight, held candles to illuminate her face against the bitter wind.
The woman, their leader, approached me. She was short and stocky in a friendly way. There was a light in her eyes and a twist to her smile. She said, "My name's Jen. We were going to sled over there, where Mayor Daley is building his secret landfill. Do you want to come along?"
"What landfill?" I said.
"You got an extra sled?"
She took my money. She laughed, pure and high. "What would you like?"
"Done," she said, and she put her arm around me. Then she turned back towards the group. "Charles, you be the pusher. As he is our guest, push him last."
Charles, young and slight, perhaps not past eighteen, hung his head.
We approached Lake Michigan's shore. Not two steps from the water, Jen pulled a sledgehammer out of her robe. I knew she was going to whack me in the head and toss my body in the water.
Instead she took a swing at thin air. Glass shattered, opening a white hole in reality.
She smiled. "Daley uses hundred foot mirrors to conceal it. Five million dollars a piece. Don't cut yourself."
We stepped through the hole and a mountain of snowed-on, sealed-off trash rose above me. The group followed. We stood at the top of the hill, on top of ten stories worth of garbage, sleds poised, she in the Batman sled and I in the saucer.
"Wait, hold on!" I said. "This goes straight into the Lake."
"It's probably frozen."
"No way it's..." And Charles pushed the first, the second, the third, with uncanny speed. There we went, her first by only a fraction of a second. I bailed out of the saucer almost immediately, tumbling ten or twenty feet. As for the rest...well, let's say if their guts were vanilla cream and their skin was orange drink, they'd be Dreamsicles in long black bags.