I have hallucinated on that road.
There was heavy fog at Mammoth Mountain the last Sunday I was there. It was snowing, but if your face were exposed, you wouldn’t feel feathery flakes tickling your nose as much as tiny ice shards attacking your pores. Not me though. I wrap a bandit’s kerchief below my goggles.
Still, even I — accustomed to taking a beating from the mountain and going back for more — had to give up snowboarding before the end of the day. The fog, the white sky, and the snowy terrain combine into whiteout conditions. In a whiteout, the horizon and any reference points disappear. You can’t tell if you’re moving or stopped, going down or across. Through this disorientation, you only discover you’re on a steep incline when you fall, stand, and then fall again. As you fall, you watch the textured white of the slope rush toward your face even as it slides away. That’s when you realize you’ve been descending the mountain the whole time you believed you were peacefully still in a cloud waiting for sight to return.
The first time I experienced whiteout was around seven years ago. I was giddy to be in the midst of a sensation I had never known before. All of existence was a benign white mystery engulfing me. In it I could see or know nothing. Speed was indistinguishable from stillness. The challenge of getting down the slope made a fine adventure, just like any other jam I found myself in at the mountain: being lost in the backcountry; attempting to navigate through trees; being stuck in snow buried up to my knees; traversing an icy death ridge with four inches of clearance for my board’s edge; hiking up what may as well have been a 90˚ angle to get to untouched powder on the other side…
On this recent Sunday, I snowboarded through the whiteout for part of the day. But this time, the blindness, the white mystery, felt less like fun and more like a physical impediment.
On a chairlift, I watched snowboarders emerge out of a white cloud one by one like ghosts. Sighted specters. I was enchanted. How could they see where I could not, or, why were they able to ride without seeing and I was not?
I drove back to Los Angeles that same day. Next to me, on the passenger seat, sat the Perfect Man. In exchange for an early drive home, I was willingly missing the Oscars for the first time in fifteen years, though I live in an environment where the Oscars are more important than a presidential inauguration. In fact, I live three blocks away from where the Academy Awards are physically held. (So every year, I make sure to be anywhere but home for the Oscars in order to escape the noise of the traffic jams and the incessant circling of helicopters above my head.)
By the time we packed the car to head back to Los Angeles, it had stopped snowing. This made it emotionally easier to leave Mammoth. I wanted to get home and back to my Mulholland story, which for some reason, resonated with many readers. I had posted it at 10 pm on a Friday night — the middle of the night in some time zones, morning in others — right before leaving for Mammoth. The post had been a necessity for me, therapy, and I thought it to be rushed and unstructured. Yet it generated the most views on Gunmetal Geisha in a single day. Three days later it became my most read post.
Each reader responded to a different aspect of it, be it the act of writing, driving Mulholland, or beginning a new relationship. Some saw promise and joy in said relationship, others heard my panic and uncertainty.
The Perfect Man himself, read the post besides me on his iPad as I drove us to Mammoth, and seemed to derive only that I wrote he was perfect (“as far as I could tell”) and beamed about it rather endearingly.
“You did see my angst and trepidation too,” I asked. “Yes?”
He nodded. But I could see that he still had perfect man floating in front of his eyes.
Before the Perfect Man and I met in person, I had introduced him to this site. (He chivalrously refers to it as my “column,” because “blogging” can seem silly to non-bloggers.) We met over drinks the first time, and inevitably, the GG “column” came up. He asked if everything was up for grabs when it came to my posts and if I would write about him and any incidents henceforth.
I found the question disconcerting, and my first thought was an indignant, of course not!
Out loud I said, “Doing that just doesn’t sit right.”
He said, “That’s because you have honor.“
I thought, do I? And in the end I said, “Not without the subject’s permission, anyway.”
I believe I have honor, certainly a measure. But I also believe that it takes a kind of honor not to compromise the frankness of one’s writing.
Fortunately, I have the subject’s permission.
I don’t know why Mammoth always finds its way to me. It’s not the other way around. I could go to other mountains. But Mammoth won’t fade into the background.
I dated a snowboarder there for nearly five years. I’ve driven the three-hundred miles back and forth no less than a hundred times. On it, I’ve fallen asleep, been whooped by sirens and passed flipped cars in snow storms. My car has been attacked by tumble weed, and I’ve been leered at by toothless tweakers at gas stations.
The effect of food poisoning has hit me on that road, the culmination of violent nausea forcing me to pull over five times while driving myself home. My car has overheated on it. Another time, the car’s ceiling pleather spontaneously detached while I was driving eighty-five with the windows down. The entirety of the cover separated and flew directly to the windshield exactly where it would block my view. I didn’t panic; that would be inefficient. And it seemed no circumstance inspired more efficiency in me than “making good time” — without tipping off highway patrol. I shoved down a corner of the cover, put the hazards on, pulled to the shoulder, crumpled it under my seat and took off again within thirty seconds.
Through everything and anything, my goal was undeterred driving. I always aimed to beat my door-to-door 4 hours 10 minutes record.
I drove to Mammoth year-round while I was with the snowboarder. Back then, it wasn’t just about winter or chasing snow, although one year I did snowboard on the Fourth of July. During warm weather, insects the size of hummingbirds splattered into morbidly colorful Rorschachs on my windshield.
I’ve had driving dreams since I was a child living in Iran, and in most, I would drive to a snowy mountain. The dream would end as soon as the mountain would come to view.
I stopped having these dreams when I began my trips to Mammoth, but the strange happenings on the road rivaled my dreamscape.
I’ve seen ice fall from the sky, and hail as large as golf balls. And I’ve driven through thirteen hours of whiteout.
I have hallucinated on that road. I tended to leave Los Angeles around 11 pm. I preferred night driving and would aim for 7 pm, but grappled with chronic unpunctuality. Bleary eyes, near delusion and nodding off at the wheel weren’t uncommon. If nodding off didn’t respond to my own face-slapping, I’d pull over and nap, sometimes for a preposterous four hours. But if nodding off wasn’t involved, I would drive through the hallucinations. Sometimes they were run of the mill spots zooming in and out of my peripheral vision. But other times, I would see things in the night sky — shooting star? Military aircraft? An overactive satellite? Maybe. Once though, the object’s size and oval shape, sure made it uncomfortable for me for the seventy miles of its constant disappearance and re-appearance.
I’ve driven through a Biblical plague of little bats around my car, flapping haphazardly and disjointedly the way they do, as if torn pieces of corsets thrown into the air to unfurl. It figured that the only mammal capable of sustained flight would be so disorderly about it. The air was littered with their jerky helter-skelter for miles, and this was both fascinating and disconcerting.
Another year, on the cusp of summer, there was a rash of thumb-sized field mice, flitting back and forth across the road as if they couldn’t make up their minds on which side laid their very important business. This also went on for miles. I’d like to think they all made it.
The sight of road kill — rabbits, coyotes, possum, raccoons, birds — and the mélange of blood, entrails and fur never failed to moisten my eyes. At the same time, I was always relieved that my own car wasn’t the perpetrator. One autumn, I had to slow down to an unpardonable forty for about an hour while driving through a minefield of jackrabbits frolicking on the road. My nerves and emotions were frayed to the point of tears, but in the end, every jackrabbit survived.
No amount of challenge on the road or on the slopes ever affected my determination to go back to the mountain the next time. Even when I left the snowboarder for good, there was always somewhere to stay.
I met the next guy I began seeing on a chairlift. The Mammoth connection in my life didn’t go away no matter who came and left. But by the time this current season came around, I considered all connections severed and was ready to go through my Mammoth withdrawal.
No more midnight road-trips on highway 14 to the 395, I sighed.
And then I met the Perfect Man.
I did the driving on each occasion the Perfect Man and I went to Mammoth. Driving is a stretch of time turned into substance, the physicalization of a chimerical existence between my dreamworld and a parallel universe. It’s as if there’s a blocked memory to which I must retrace my steps over and over, in hopes of remembering finally, where I have been, or perhaps where it is I haven’t yet gone. Each time the snowy mountains come to view, my chest aches with a presentiment of memory before it’s formed. The call to the road is a continuous radio signal from a non-linear place where all events co-exist at once. That place isn’t very different from the crazy tree growing in my head with the branches — of all that has and will happen — extending forth simultaneously.
Early on, I began thinking of the Perfect Man as one of those filmic angels on a mission to unblacken something for someone.
Early on, I began worrying for him for entangling himself with me.
But for now, on the road to Mammoth with him, the amber desert sun gave way to misty whiteout all in the same day. And just before we reached the mountain, there was a moment where the vast terrain of bare trees, dry fields and snowy patches appeared upright. I stared and blinked at a glorious upside down world before me. The wintry landscape hung like a curtain from the tip of the sky, unrolling toward us, and heaven and earth were interchangeable.
Let it be known that the Perfect Man made no indication on his online dating profile that he snowboarded, let alone that he kept a cabin in Mammoth.
On my profile, I had naturally scribed a scroll-like manifesto of all that a man should and shouldn’t be. For levity I had added, “Or, just be into snowboarding.” But many subjects of conversation passed between us before the Perfect Man brought up Mammoth, his season pass to the mountain and his cabin. When he did, my eyes widened slightly, but I caught my jaw before it dropped.
How could he be this handsome, this dapper, this intelligent, this much of a chair-coat-door holding gentleman, and be just about as obsessed with snowboarding — in Mammoth — as I was?!
The day before the Perfect Man and I left for Mammoth, I had an audition for a cellphone commercial. They lined up four of us in the room to tell an anecdote of our choice to the camera. I had decided on my Mammoth icy death ridge story, in which I clutched two ice bumps on the mountain face with my fingertips while petrified and witless, and being talked down by the employee who was at the top of the slope telling me it was too steep for ski patrol to help with a snowmobile. In the audition room, I was ready, knowing the story would bring out a genuine, animated me for the camera.
When the actor before me had his turn, I jolted a little. It happened he had a Mammoth story too.
That same night, I walked into a writing workshop and spotted a friend eagerly waving at me. She was all blonde mane and cute cut-up Mammoth T-shirt.
It isn’t as if there aren’t dozens of interesting destinations near Los Angeles. But for me, apparently, all roads lead to Mammoth. (continued)
- I haven’t worked it out, but there’s something there, just beyond my grasp.
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