October 2012

Home alone

By Suzanne Strazza

The first winter after I began working for Outward Bound, I returned to my beloved small town in Utah where I had lived years before. I was excited to give up “traditional” life and become a professional outdoor educator/dirtbag who spent the off-season climbing and skiing and working just enough to get by. So back to ski town, Utah, which wasn’t nearly as small as I remembered.

A change that actually made it slightly less appealing, but I figured I could somehow work around that. I’m fairly resourceful and still knew a lot of folks there…

Which, sure enough, was all I needed. Really, all I needed was one old boyfriend who happened to be single and a homeowner.

He owned a cabin on the pass between our canyon and the next and was headed to South America for the winter, so I got the house. I moved in, frantically, on the last day that the road up there was still open. It was dumping snow as I ran trips back and forth (including transporting Uinta, my 20-pound orange cat). After dropping him off, I raced back down the road to park my car just before they closed the gate for the next 7 months.

The Gate was 3.5 miles downhill from the Cabin; which meant 3.5 miles up from my car to home at the end of the day. On skis.

The Cabin was a red summer A-frame that, along with about 20 others spread out throughout the aspen forests at 10,000 feet, was not insulated, had lots of single-paned glass and no heat besides the woodstove. A few intrepid souls (five) lived up there in their own places, year-round, skiing in over the pass, cutting trees for heat, melting snow for water and putting anything you didn’t want to freeze in the refrigerator.

I so wanted to be a badass – I worked for Outward Bound – I already thought I was a badass, but was actually just arrogant. I moved in the day he left, the day they closed the road.

He had just bought the cabin and had left it exactly as it was on closing day. The previous owners had gone up there 10 years earlier for a night and left, thinking they would be back in a day, and never set foot there again – not even when they sold it. My ex (sort of current) got it exactly as it was 10 years before when they locked the door behind them.

This actually included a few dirty dishes.

An A-frame already reeks of a time long gone. Add in orange shag carpeting, a dark brown laminate dining-room set, an orange velvet couch and, no shit, throw pillows sporting appliquéd mushrooms, and you had yourself a total time warp.

This cabin was luxurious – I had electricity. It fueled the avocado-green Freon-filled fridge and Mr. Coffee. Most importantly I had a switch in the kitchen that ran power out to the outhouse to turn on a space heater so I could warm up the toilet seat before shoveling my way out there to luxuriate in the warmth while the coffee brewed inside.

I had to ski out of the house at 4:30 to be on time to serve tourists breakfast in my tele boots, poly pro and skirt that had been dug out of the Tupperware “closet” in the backseat of my Jeep; I so deserved a heated outhouse.

The coffee table in front of the orange couch hosted a few magazines including… the Time issue with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” cover and another with Ronald Reagan getting ready for the election. I also had a stereo – a record player to be exact. (“Stereo” was being extraordinarily generous.)

And there were albums.

And one of those albums was “Cheap Trick Live at Budokan.”

I have no idea what others existed – it didn’t matter – I had Cheap Trick and Michael Jackson and pleather mushrooms!

The thing about the Cheap Trick Album and living in a place where your nearest neighbor is only within gunshot-sound range is that one can spend a lot of time cruising memory lane without any distractions.

And there I was, right in Elaine Malinowski’s bedroom, practicing our musical act, trying out deodorant and make-up and designing our stage costumes. I still remember our favorite ensemble: corduroy and satin, burgundy and “cream,” low-cut shirts, cream where the other was burgundy, and, oh, this is painful, scarves. Extra long cream satin.

I can’t believe I just told you that.

Given how much time we had spent rehearsing, when I first put that album on the record player, I remembered every word, every nuance, every squeak from the audience.

And every dance move from Elaine’s repertoire which I performed more times than I should admit, on that shag carpeting as a little self-entertainment.

Along with waiting tables, I worked at a Nordic center. I wanted to work in the store, on Main Street, but was instead banished to the smaller, less visible, clubhouse on the golf course where the trails were located. Apparently I didn’t shower enough to be seen in public, a fact of which I was very proud.

I was leading the extremely good life. Going home at the end of a day after serving scrambled eggs to antsy tourists or guiding them into the backcountry was like returning to my cocoon, my sanctuary. No phone. No television. No outside stimuli at all and absolutely no indicators of it being the ’90s. The place was pure early-’80s. Walking in, kicking off my ski boots and getting the fire going was like floating back in time.

My favorite book as a child was “Fog Magic,” about a girl in Nova Scotia who managed to go back in time 100 years every time she walked through the fog, which is quite often when you live in Nova Scotia. Each evening I made the on-ski trek up the pass, often in a Utah blizzard, carrying groceries and cat food on my back. Passing through the front door of that A-frame was walking into the fog. Bliss.

And then, in the spring, the ex-turned sort- of-current returned and suddenly we were living together, which — it was pretty immediately evident — was destined to fail. But, there was no moving out with the road still closed, so we gave it a valiant effort.

With the return of the man came a cell phone (one of those huge early-day ones that cost $1000 per minute). He also figured out how to get radio reception. Suddenly “All Things Considered” was in my living room and my denial of a world beyond Cheap Trick was shattered. The present day was oozing all over my sanctuary.

After a few weeks he left again to go run rivers, leaving me with this: “Consider this your home (read: consider us not an item), feel free, if you meet someone, to bring him up here.”

Who the hell was going to work that hard to get a little action?

I married the first guy that did.

The cabin no longer provided any sense of serenity. Once it was invaded by him (yes, I know – he did own the place) and the sound of a phone ringing and Robert Siegel’s voice, pleasant as it is, my bubble was burst, the magic vanished and the Cabin became just a place in which it was a total pain in the ass to live.

I moved out, in June, after the snow melted enough to open the road.

But last week, as I drove home from Idaho, I passed through the Wasatch Front, listening to the radio. I heard, “I want you, to want me.” I mentally stepped through the fog one last time and found myself reclining on that damn orange couch, head on a mushroom, reading about the rise of the 5th Jackson brother.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo. Read her blog, Single in the Southwest, at suzannestrazza. wordpress.com.