I used to love the mountains. I’d sit out on the deck of the old place in Clearview and gaze upon them for hours over a bucket of Scotch or, if the sun were not yet over the yard arm, a double shot of espresso. I’d watch the hawks soar through the Snohomish River valley and the Baldies glide among the clouds that swirled above the foothills and around the Cascade peaks. At night, I could sit in the same spots and watch the full moon come up over the peaks like the Great Pumpkin; sullenly orange and bloated but growing bright and small as the night wore on.
In September’s crystal mornings, just before the sun gave any hints it was on its way, old Orion would be laying on his side across the mountain tops, his sword stuck in the earth.
Sunny days in winter were truly a wonder as the peaks were all draped in purest white – almost blinding to look at. Additional drama was provided by the 3-D relief given to the crags and folds by the low angle of the sun.
Of course, thunderstorms were always a treat, even the few we’d get in the winter time. As they almost always developed later in the day, they changed from white to cream to a rich pink as they rose to bump against the stratosphere and then spread out into the “Thor’s anvil” that is their signature. If they lasted into the night, the lightning bolts would make them glow from within like paper lanterns.
Sunsets provided their own spectacles. The very day we moved in, the sun and rain clouds created a 1:1,000,000 scene. A large thundercloud had just moved off to the Cascade foothills across the Snohomish River valley while behind us in the clearing sky, several little fleecy clouds cast shadows. The storm cloud created a vibrant double rainbow which rose in the east and the shadows came together at a point in the bottom center of the bows – a perfect tunnel of light.
On any sunny evening, we could see the pink-and-blue terminator sweep up and over from the east. The terminator is the line running N-S that marks the movement of earth’s shadow; pink above where the sun still shines and a bluish charcoal below when the kingdom of night takes over.
The mountains were also a delight not only to watch but to visit. With picnic lunch in tow, Pam and I have gone into them many times to explore and wonder. Not as seriously as some folks do, but enough to always find something new. We have taken the daughters and the nephews on helicopter rides through the smoking crater of Mount St. Helens and have spent several late summer days up at Paradise Lodge on Mt. Rainier. We’ve taken many a 3-day weekend at the always-evolving lodge called Sun Mountain that sits on the east slope of the Cascades, over by Winthrop, Washington.
But I don’t like looking at them so much any more. In fact, when we are taking a load through the mountains, I tend to just keep my eyes on the road and get through them as quickly as possible and preferably at night. One time, I was so eager to be past them that I almost let the truck get away from me on a 6% grade coming down I-70 into Denver.
With the house in Clearview gone, I suppose you’d think the reason I don’t like the mountains is that they are unpleasant reminders of my ruin. You would be partly correct: they are indeed unpleasant reminders, but not of the lost house, Mercedes-Benz and busted business. I can always get another house and car and start another business. It goes deeper than that. Let me explain.
In the summer before everything came a-cropper, while we still held out hope the stinking program might find its wings, I was working my old network for leads and, best of all, a b test site – a company that would be willing to install Pinpointer 911 and help me locate any bugs we missed. One of my calls went to Walt, a former computer and telephone sales whiz, now semi-retired and working as a consultant for King County. Walt’s last position had been the sales manager for General Telephone, now known as Verizon, over in Bothell and he was all but a legend for his team’s productivity. Walt’s numbers were the envy of managers everywhere – he was the Jack Welsh of telephone sales. If anyone knew anyone who might buy a Pinpointer 911, not just the Seattle area but beyond, or who would hold still for a b test, it would probably be Walt.
A bit of voicemail tag and a flurry of emails and we finally agreed to meet on a Thursday morning at the Starbucks down in Totem Lake at ten o`clock sharp.
True to form, Walt was waiting for me when I arrived. I almost didn’t recognize him: Walt had shed at least twenty pounds and gotten a buzz cut – but the smile was still the same. After saying our hellos, we went to the counter where Walt bought the coffees; a latte for him and a double espresso for me. We took seats in the chairs by the windows. “So,” Walt wanted to know, “Just what the hell have you been up to since … Since about four years ago when I saw you last.” Yes, I said, it was indeed four years – more like five, actually. I volunteered a short history of our software business since the halcyon days of Death/Flex when we were the toast of the town, when Pam and I vacationed in Europe and I’d bought the Mercedes.
I jumped right into business instead of spending the usual obligatory time making chat about the kids, the wife, the cat or the ass-hole that gave me the finger in the parking lot. I suppose Walt suspected I was under some pressure so he accommodated by giving a willing ear to my case. Unhappily, Walt knew of no one who might be interested. He had retired from GTE a few years ago and had lost track of many movers and shakers – and many of the movers and shakers of whom he had not lost track had gotten the axe during the George Bush Tech Wreck. The ranks of people, said Walt, who might be willing to take a look at Pinpointer 911 were reduced to two: a woman at a local hospital who was mere weeks away from retirement and himself. The woman, being a short timer, could not possibly care less about getting involved with new products and as for Walt himself, he couldn’t help as such things as a 911 system were well outside his purview.
Well. That settled that, so we reverted to the chit-chat we had foregone at the beginning of our meeting. I told him of my bout with cancer and urged him, as I urge all men past fifty, to get a PSA test. In return, he told me of his late-in-life son’s accomplishments and relayed some interesting tidbits he had heard about some of the folks he and I had known – including the amazing adventures of Suzette and Absalom Fudkins.
Some background: fresh out of college with a degree in marketing, Suzette had come to work for Walt in early 1982. She became one of his star sales people and had come to earn a handsome living flogging PBX and Electronic Key systems throughout the Puget Sound area.
Part of the secret to Suzette’s success was, no doubt, the fact she was real easy on the eyes. Suzette stood about 5’4” and weighed maybe 115 in her birthday clothes. She was blond and wore her hair in a longish pixie cut. Large blue eyes and a bright smile full of perfect white teeth set off an elfish face that was decorated with just the right amount of freckles. A pert bosom, wasp waist and a melon-like rump were always visible through well-tailored suits and dresses. Her arms and legs, visible thanks to shorter skirts and sleeves, were well toned and pleasingly muscular. She also possessed a wonderful persona and a voice to match. To keep herself in shape, Suzette taught aerobics three nights a week at a health club in Redmond.
Suzette had left Walt’s tutelage back in the mid 1990s to become a wife and mother. The man she chose was a fellow who worked at one of her customers’ businesses. He seemed like Mr. Right but alas, hubby turned out to be a lay-about and toss pot and after enduring his antics for a couple of years, Suzette jettisoned him and went back to the single life. All this I had heard before.
Ah, but what I hadn’t heard, what Walt told me that day, was Suzette’s discovery of Absalom, a buff, well-to-do, and recently retired stock broker ten years her senior who had cleaned up during the .com craze. Absalom had had the good sense to get out while the getting was good and was now as rich as sin. Walt said Absalom had smelled something in the air and so he cashed in his entire portfolio on New Year’s Eve day of 1999. Absalom then put everything into corporate bonds, munies and real estate and began to earn even more wampum while his business chums held and took a bath over the next six months.
With the money pouring in, Absalom bought a new house in Bellevue, a Porsche and, to tone up and recover from the hectic life of high finance, joined a health club – the very one where Suzette held court.
They were a match made in heaven. She the trophy wife, he the trophy husband and, according to Walt, they are still Living Happily Ever After. Walt positively beamed as he told me all this, which was natural as Walt had come to regard Suzette as a daughter figure. The feeling was evidently reciprocated; Walt once told me that Suzette’s parents were dead and that when she married – both times – she asked Walt to giver her away.
Now I have to admit, hearing of some former colleague’s success and good fortune was a bit disgruntling, what with my unlucky fortunes and all, but what was especially galling was what came next.
It seems that, with all their money, health, vigor and youth, Absalom had suggested he and Suzette spend the rest of their lives doing things almost no one else on the planet has the money, health, vigor, and youth to do. I could just see the two of them, cuddled in front of the fire in the living room of their 12,000 square foot home, sipping red wine and nibbling on brie and crackers and listening to the rain spatter on the 2-story window that gave an expansive view of Mt. Baker to the north when Absalom declared his plan: the two of them would, over the span of their lives, climb Earth’s ten highest mountains.
Jaw dropping open at the audacity of the idea, Suzette would have then thrown her arms around Absalom’s neck and squealed with delight. Putting down her wine and fetching an atlas from the library, Suzette would have returned to help him draw up the plans.
Some weeks later, after they got all their new passports and all their shots, the butler would have loaded the happy couple’s gear into the Hummer and summoned his employers for the ride to Boeing Field where the Gulfstream awaited.
Walt told me Suzette and Absalom flitted about the planet, dutifully climbing peak after peak, saving the best until last, Mount Everest. Walt said that as we spoke, the two of them were on their way up. They had hopped aboard the jet two weeks back, just about the time I first tried to reach Walt. Normally, climbing parties will consist of several people, all strangers to each other, who have pooled their resources in order to afford the excursion. Not so with Suzette and Absalom; they had so many shekels that they simply wrote a check for the whole thing and went up alone, attended only by their loyal Sherpas.
The fact that this climb was such an exclusive one, the news media had taken an interest (and possibly because the fellow at a local TV station had bought a telephone system from Suzette and the two had kept in touch). And possibly because Absalom greased a few palms. Whichever, CNN had offered to carry a live phone call from Suzette when she and Absalom were at the summit. It would be carried on the CNN’s Morning Edition, hosted by Daren Kagen and broadcast allllllllll over the world. Walt was almost giddy with the news
I really needed to hear this. Here I was, begging someone, anyone, to buy my frigging program while dodging dun calls from Wells-Fargo, Direct Merchants Bank and about thirty other outfits and these two birds were gallivanting all over the world doing things I could hardly comprehend. Climbing mountains indeed. My adventures consisted of walking up to the end of 168th Street and planning what to get at the store with our food stamps.
To bring this less-than-satisfying meeting to an end, I gave Walt a copy of my pitch disk, told him to pass it on to anyone who might be interested, or toss it in the trash. Whatever.
It was one of the very few times in my sixty-four years when I have been truly ashamed of myself. Mortified to tears, actually.
I drove home and went down to the office to sulk. Bitter bile. Goddammit! I sat staring at the computer screen for about two hours. Didn’t do a thing. Actually, I opened the code, all three years worth of work, cursed it as a useless piece of crap and came within a hair’s breadth of erasing the whole shebang. I now wish I would have, it would have saved another eleven months of futile effort.
Pam didn’t know about this humiliation and I wasn’t going to bum her out so I just quashed it and put on my nice salesman’s face. That’s one of the good things about being a salesman, you learn how to act. I could go on the stage.
The next morning, though, I told Pam and Dale about it as the three of us were taking our customary walk. The immediate sense of shame had passed, replaced with one of wondering, “where the hell is mine?” Dale and Pam were somewhat sympathetic but Dale is never one to let me wallow too much and soon had goaded me into a semblance of objectivity. But it still rankled plenty.
I got back into my work and the sting abated. However, two days later as I was fixing a rare egg for breakfast (we had started saving those for the weekend), I turned on CNN to catch the news and as I was coming in the living room with my repast, I heard the anchor woman gush “And now, as promised, we are taking you, by satellite telephone, to an interview from the top of the world with Suzette Fudkins. She and her husband, Absalom Fudkins, have spent the last …” I about dropped my plate. This was positively, absolutely the last thing I needed right now – listen to that goddamned cunt crow about her wonderful life while I take bigger and bigger bites of my shit sandwich. Hell, I can’t afford gas with which to mow the goddamned lawn! Before I could kick the “off” button, on came Suzette’s sweet little voice: “Good Morning, Daren,” she chirped. “And hello to everyone back in Seattle …” I planted my foot squarely on the little green button and the screen went dark and the TV skittered sideways on its stand. I threw the egg and toast out the lanai door and stomped off down the hall to the toilet to take a shower.
I was really getting my nose rubbed in it.
Well, some years have past now and the sore spot has healed over to some degree. Still, whenever I pass by mountains all I can think of is the two lovebirds camped out atop Mount Everest. There, in the moonlight with the entire planed Earth spread out below them, they bang their brains out to the song of the thin, high wind. Afterward, Absalom, full of himself, exits the tent and – with ample justification, I should say – stands there atop the world, thumps his chest and roars “I am Ozimandius! Behold my works ye mighty and dispare” while from inside the tent Suzette makes worshipful cooings as she blots off her nether parts.
Back inside the tent, Absalom reminds Suzette of the time – her call to CNN is due in a few moments. She clasps her hands together and a toothsome smile spreads across her face. Absalom, ever the attentive husband, smiles indulgently, then opens the tent flap and calls out “Boy? Bring me the phone.” A Sherpa in a tent a few feet downslope sticks out his head and nods. Presently, Suzette, bundled against the midnight cold, is on the phone and her words are coming out the speaker of my TV.
In the office where I sit motionless in front of the monitor until noon, doing my best to snap myself out of the mood of utter chagrin and shame, I finally pick my hind end out of the chair and head for my buddy’s place for a little sympathetic conversation and a double espresso. They will go a long way to balming the soul just now.
Ah, but time is a great leveler and agent of recompense. Let us jump in the time machine and see what has happened to the happy couple.
A few years after his financial triumphs, Absalom grows lazy and cocky and gets fleeced in a land swindle. While this doesn’t land Absalom in bankruptcy court, he is still down by a few million and needs to recoup. Hoping he hasn’t lost the old touch, he tells Suzette the mountaineering will have to go on hold for a while as he gets into day trading. Absalom holes up in a cheesy little office he builds in the basement of the new condo (yes, he had to unload the palace in the woods) and spends 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, working the phones and banging away on his computer. He starts drinking.
But there is more: Thanks to the unfiltered ultra-violet light on top of mountains, Absalom’s face will become covered with actinic caratosese. These are little red crusty sores that never heal and, if not removed by a surgeon’s scalpel, tend to become malignant. You see them festooning cowboys, farmers, construction workers and, especially, mountain climbers. These, along with his balding pate ensures that the face looming next to Suzette in the marriage bed will resemble nothing so much as a small pepperoni pizza. Yum.
As for Suzette, she is a woman after all, so the tits will go bad first. From firm, pointy little gems they will become soft and flaccid duds that will hang from their ligaments like empty wine skins. When she walks through the condo in the nude, they’ll slap on her belly and Absalom will avert his eyes. The lissome legs will have become gnarley from overuse. Veins will stand out in little spiderweb patterns on her thighs and cellulite will widen her hips and make her ass jiggle unpleasantly.
As for her cherubic face, her cute little freckles will become sunstruck and as dark as ink. Some will evolve into unsightly excrescences that grow hair. While most women in their later years will have delicate little crows’ feet by their eyes, Suzette’s sun-ravaged skin will produce things that look like the foot tracks of a Velosoraptor.
Well, at least I sure hope so. (ed)