Prose

Matthew Reed

Ceremonial

            The lump in the side pocket of Chris Depolai’s uniform Parka turned out to be a plastic film canister off pot. Devin made a little check mark next to Chris Depolai’s name on a clipboard, threw the parka onto the pile of checked in uniforms, then picked up the canister again. There was only a pinch of weed in it. He rolled the crumble of leaves between his fingers. In high school, he had smoked pot a little bit--more for show than anything else. He had never really liked it.  Mixed with alcohol, it made him sick. By itself, it made him paranoid, and annoying to pretty much everybody around him. The last time he had smoked, he had spent the night in the back of Pete Ellis’ car, telling whoever would listen, to stop fucking with him. He was not a natural.

            On the other side of the room,  a much bigger pile of blue uniform lay over a stack of fencing and signs that during the season had homes out on the hill. This was the afternoon’s work, checking uniforms in, emptying pockets out, bagging them up to take to the laundry on the third floor. The office, which usually smelled faintly of wet gloves and ski socks, now gave off heady locker room mustiness. But the work was a welcome change: managing and organizing uniforms, rather than the employees who wore them. 

            Devin had spent Sunday morning, furiously (and to be honest, not terribly accurately) entering in the last week’s work hours on the computer database, then rushing the printout upstairs to payroll. It was policy at Mt. Rose that all seasonal employees receive their final paycheck on the last day of the season.  In years past, John Campbell, had kept them hostage, sitting behind the Ski School Director’s desk with a handle of Jack Daniels, making each instructors take a shot before he surrendered their check. It had always seemed like a grand way to go out—a pirate  boss divvying up the spoils among his crew. John drank a shot with every third or fourth employee and the office would fill with people drinking and flashing their 17 dollar and 14 dollar checks to one another. From there, they would move upstairs, then into the parking lot, then down the hill,  John’s soirée the start of what was often a roving, swelling last day of the season party. This year, Devin had spent the last afternoon hunting down instructors with a rubberbanded stack of checks, shaking hands and thanking everybody for a good season. It was a lame sendoff—but Devin knew himself well enough to know that he wouldn’t be able to pull off something as outlaw as John’s. And he took solace in the fact that he had finally done the reasonable thing, finishing the season by the book.

            Devin found Arnie Moffitt and Big Ben in the back of the rental shop, spraying Lysol down the tongues of ski boots. He had listened to the clacking of equipment and 80s hair metal for the better part of the day as they prepped the rental inventory for summer storage. In the morning, they had been shouting over some choice cuts from Skid Row and Poison while they dragged skis across the waxer, but this late in the day, then had settled into the drudgery of repetitive work, quietly lining boots up, spraying them with disinfectant, hoisting them up on the rack, while Steven Tyler lamented:

            That kind of loving turns a man to a slave

            That kind of lovin sends a man to his grave

            Both Big Ben and Arnie had reverted to a summer uniform of hiking boots and shorts.

            “Look what I found in Chris Depaoli’s jacket,” said Devin.

            In Big Ben’s hands, the film canister looked the size of a pebble. He studied the canister from what seemed like a professional point of view, sniffing it, rubbing the few remains between two very large fingers. He was easily a head taller than either Devin or Arnie and was massive enough that he seemed to occupy the space of a small crowd of people. With his long unkempt hair and beard, and his ever-present green fishing vest (which during the season he wore defiantly over his uniform shirt), Devin imagined he was what a forest person might look like, specifically one from a forest of large trunked trees. Ben handed the canister to Arnie, in whose normal sized hands, it regained its natural scale. “You call him?” Ben asked.

            “What would I tell him,” said Devin. “I got your weed?”

             “Yeah,” said Ben, “But say it like this, ‘This is the police. I got your weed.” He let out a long heavy chuckle.

            Arnie, peered into the canister, closing one eye, then offered an unimpressed “eh,” and handed it back to Devin.

            “Should we smoke it?” said Devin.

            “That?” said Ben. There’s nothing in there.”

            “There’s some,” said Kevin, trying not to sound like he was begging. It had been so long since he had been able to take pleasure in the quirkiness of working at a ski resort. Just a week and a half ago, a first year instructor who Fatty had nicknamed, “Houseplant” had walked down to lineup in bare feet, complaining that his boots were hurting. Devin had spent the whole afternoon worrying if Cal had been looking out his office window.  “Just think of it as ceremonial.” 

            Big Ben unclasped a pocket on the chest of his fishing vest and out slid a small glass pipe and a plastic baggy. “No. this is ceremonial,” he said.

“Elvis day, Bud light Ladies Day, The Dummy downhill.” Big Ben bent  thick fingers back as he made an accounting of Mt Rose’s annual special events. They were sitting on a pair of parked snowmobiles underneath the lodge’s sundeck. Midwinter, snow berms usually formed there, making it a good place to participate in activities the 3rd floor didn’t condone, but likely knew were happening anyways.  “I’m just saying,” continued Ben. “You have these guys upstairs always running around like their hair’s on fire, screaming about profits and revenue, when if they put a little more money into one of these things they already have—if they for once planned ahead—they’d have some marquis events on their hands—like Vail marquis, and then they’d start making money”

            “I’m not sure more money is going to class up the Dummy Downhill.” said Arnie. “If anything, I imagine it would just go to more half ass pyrotechnics.” In the past couple of years, there had been a rash dummies being set on fire before being sent down the hill. The effect was more novelty than spectacle: stiff legged dummies with trails of tiny, almost imperceptible licks of flame, meandering down the course, often tipping over before reaching the jump.  But it had gotten to be enough of a trend, that a patroller had been stationed at the landing area with a fire extinguisher.

            “I didn’t say classy,” said Ben. “I said marquis.”

The truth, Devin knew, was that Cal and the rest of the third floor were trying to move away from these types of event—all of which had the same one-off/homemade feel to them. They were little blips in the season’s schedule that garnered some loyalty among the regulars, but required a lot of labor to pull off, and in the end didn’t bring in much more revenue than a normal ski day. There were also some fears that photos like the ones taken at Bud Light Ladies Day—one of which showed the rental shop Crew, big Ben and Arnie included, in mini skirts and crop tops, chugging cheap beer from plastic cups—would make it hard for Mt Rose to ever be taken seriously as a first tier resort. But Devin didn’t say anything. After an entire season of tripping over himself trying to speak for the company, it was nice to just nod in vague agreement.

            “I have to be honest,” said Ben. “I’m glad this season’s over. Nothing got out of first gear. Skiing didn’t really start until February and then what did we have, like three real powder days, then maybe two weeks of spring skiing before it went to crap? Plus the whole alcohol ban and a fucking employee party in a bowling alley? I just hope over the summer they learn to treat us right again.”

            “I don’t think you can really blame them for the snow,” said Arnie.

            “They could’ve at least cushioned the blow. We’re out there every day—barely getting minimum wage, essentially getting poorer and poorer—the least they could do is give us a good time. There could’ve been a little more effort put into things. ”

“I don’t know,” said Arnie. “You do this long enough, it’s gets hard to tell if it’s been a good season or not. You spend the fall anticipating and waiting, then the season comes, you get up every morning, you go to bed every night, and you say to yourself, this is okay. It doesn’t rock or anything,  but you’re glad you’re there. You’re just kind of tired, but not too tired. It’s only like a month later, when you realize, yeah that was pretty good, or man, fuck. I’m glad I’m out of there—but then that can change on like a daily basis too”

            “So,” said Ben, “You’re saying you’re like one of those economists who find out we’re in a recession a year and a half after everybody’s lost their jobs?”

            “I’m just saying it’s a matter of perspective,” said Arnie.

            “What you need is a metric,” said Devin.  It was strange, that the concepts he most failed at as a manager—accountability and analysis—should come to mind. Though that’s what looked to be his takeaway from the season—a vaguely understood vocabulary and a bunch of half developed organizational skills he would probably never have use for again. Arnie and Ben looked him up and down disapprovingly as if here were some kind of foreign intruder.

            “Like one of those pain scales at the doctor’s office? Rate your pain.”

            “Rate your stoke, one through ten.” said Ben, then went through a progression of bigger and bigger smiles, as his eyes got wider and wider,  until he was open mouthed silently screaming.

            “Watch out--company man might turn it into another orientation game.” Arnie slapped him on the shoulder. “You know we’re just kidding you right?”

Devin nodded. His legs and arms, which before had had a  curiously weighty feeling—a pleasant sensation that once it seeped in, he could place somewhere around his junior year of high school,  now just felt heavy and tired.

            In the office, he went back to checking in uniforms. He pulled out a heap of mottled coupons from Gregor Sampson’s jacket and dumped them in the trash. As he clawed out the wet paper particles from inside the pocket, shaking the jacket, he got mad at himself for being concientous and  threw Gregor’s jacket on the finished heap. He threw the next several jackets on the finished heap without checking pockets, but then felt bad and went back to checking pockets.

            He hadn’t told anybody about being fired--not even his wife.

            A week ago, Cal had strolled into the office and put a cheek up on his desk. “I’ve decided to go with someone else,” he said. “I could cite specific numbers and incidents, but the fact is, I just worry when you’re down here.”

            For a long time Devin had experienced Cal not as an actual person so much as a malevolent presence--in the lodge, on the hill, over the radio, eventually even at home.  Whenever there was a decision to be made, he could feel Cal there somewhere, unseen but calculating, judging, bringing up issues he hadn’t even thought of--in part because he was too busy calculating what Cal’s response would be--his calculating always a step behind Cal’s calculating.  His neck would tighten and his speech would quicken and moments later, he’d find himself barking at an instructor or his kid, or his wife, and not realize it until he’d see the hurt look on their faces. And for hours or days afterwards, he would return to the fact that he couldn’t even manage his emotions, much less other people.

            But with his dismissal out in the silence between them, he had felt calm—almost sleepy. He had imagined how this would go—pretty much since he had started the job—all of it more terrifying and terrible than what it really was—a conversation in an office. When John had come down in a fiery mess in January, he could only imagine what had occurred up in Cal’s office, but now like most things, he realized that that was just how John did things. And this was how he did things. Of course there was a little more dignity in being fired for insolence rather than incompetence.  

            “Was I ever in the running for the permanent position?” he asked.

            “Sure, sure.” said Cal.

            “So when was I out of the running?”

            Call smiled, but didn’t answer. Whether he was better prepared for Devin’s impulse for self-flagelation than Devin himself and showing mercy,  or just being his usually efficient tightlipped manager self, Devin was thankful.

            “Who did you end up going with then? he said.

            “It’s between a couple of candidates, right now.”

             “So do you want me out—like today?”

            “No. No. Your contract goes through clean up and I want to remain faithful to the contract, right?”

            “I didn’t mean to fuck up,” said Devin.

            “Nobody does, and I didn’t say you did. But the ski school is a jellyfish of a department, floating around, tendrils here and there, it just needs a solid core.  We need that core. And you don’t quite have the confidence yet. You’re close and you’re a worthy project, but even in good years, Mt Rose struggles for revenue and I just don’t have the time for projects.” Cal paused to look straight into Devin’s eyes, which oddly to Devin, felt like the first time they had ever really been on the same page. “Does that make sense?”

            Devin nodded.

            In the months and weeks afterwards, those words would dig in and settle into an especially sensitive part of Devin’s psyche. On certain lonely nights, he would find himself, his head down on the steering wheel or his hands pressed against the side of the shower, howling Cal’s words to himself, crying out a self loathing that he had only recently discovered: “I wouldn’t fucking have time for me either…a fucking project” But that morning, the words had an airy quality to them—a bright, almost cheery optimism. filled with hope and possibility. Even as Cal uncrossed his legs and pushed himself up into a standing position and offered his hand to shake, Devin couldn’t wait for him to be out of there. Good things--he was convinced--were in the offing.


Matt Reed lives in Anchorage, Alaska among dogs and children. His fiction has most recently appeared in (b)OINK, The Forge Literary Magazine, and Drunk Monkeys and has work forthcoming in Aethlon and Apt.

Emily Corwin