My Dinner With Grubiss

Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve

Hughes gave up the book business in New York to move to Denver to become a teacher.  I became involved with Felice, whose family owned a condo in Vail.  And thus a reunion was held.  Last summer.  2005.  On a rainy day at 8,000 feet.

Since that time we’ve connected more.  John came to ski for the day last Christmas, and we stayed at his and Carie’s house this summer.  And with the rest of the family gone on New Year’s Eve, I implored Mr. Hughes to come stay the night, so we could catch up, so we could bond.

John responded that that would not be possible.  But that he’d come for the day.  But when I finally got ahold of him last Friday, to see if he was actually arriving the following day as planned, he balked.  But said that he would be staying the night after all, that he would arrive on Tuesday, the 2nd.

After a knock on the door at the appointed hour, the three of us exited the condo and proceeded to tear the place up.  Working the bowls from Game Creek to Siberia and even venturing out to Blue Sky Basin.

And after drinking hot chocolate in the lobby of the Lodge, after catching up in the living room of the condo, Felice implored us to get ready for dinner, none of us having had lunch.

I told Hughes we were going to our country club, a very exclusive place.  Which he bought, after all Felice’s family has style.  But wanting to keep it a secret, I ended up letting him in on the joke.  That we were going to the MINTURN Country Club, the motto of which is "Where the only thing missing is the golf course."  Yes, the Minturn Country Club is a low rent steak and salad bar restaurant, akin to those that flourished in the seventies.  But what sets it apart, what makes it so special, is that you barbecue your own steaks.  You check the instructions posted on the wall, how long to cook each cut, and then you drop your meat over the coals and play Bobby Flay.  Painting on teriyaki sauce, throwing on a bit of lemon pepper and garlic.

After a quick shower, I descended to the main floor to find that John was on the phone.  With his wife I figured, since he hadn’t been able to get ahold of her earlier.

And when that call was done, we went down to the lobby of the hotel, where the valet retrieved John’s car, and after entering and turning up the bun warmers, we got onto I-70 for our brief journey into backwoods Colorado.

It was a beautiful night, almost a full moon, but it wasn’t eerie, it was a good time, a reconnection between college buddies and a newfound team member.

We found a parking spot right by the entrance.  And after shuffling through the hanging plastic sheets keeping the cold from the warmth inside, we were informed that we’d have to wait, after all, it was still a holiday week.  The greeter implored us to hang out at the bar, which was centrally located in this bustling emporium.

And when I finally arrived there, after a brief respite in the bathroom, John Hughes introduced me to this crazy foreign character with glasses who started going on about skiing with Sting in Las Lenas, and how the bard was quoting me.  Impressed, I looked around for Felice, wanting her to be in on the joy.

But when I’d finally gathered Felice, John stopped the conversation.  He told this man with the accent to take off his glasses.  And then said to me "You don’t recognize him, do you?"

She didn’t recognize the face at first
But then her eyes flew open wide

I can ski on anything.  But I can’t ski on rocks, on dirt.  And the last year I was at Middlebury was the worst in ski history, to that point anyway.  The Snow Bowl was CLOSED many days of the winter.  And sometime during those dark days, I vowed when I graduated, I would go to Utah, where the most guaranteed snow was, and get a job at Alta, and ski EVERY DAY!

I packed up my new automobile on the evening of Labor Day 1974, and the following morning took off, for Kansas City, where John Hughes and Steve Grubiss, my big college buddies, lived.

Hughes was on his way to getting married.  Grubiss was going to start law school.  But when I showed up, Grubiss changed course, he didn’t really want to go to school, he would come with ME, and be a ski bum in Utah.

But having a few details to clear up, he wouldn’t be riding shotgun from K.C. to Salt Lake City, rather he’d fly in, after I’d arrived.

And this he did.  After I’d arranged a gig as a waiter at the Goldminer’s Daughter, the closest lodge to the lifts in Alta, a mere fifty feet away.

Grubiss got a job at the Alta Peruvian.  And started right away.

I ventured to Los Angeles.  Where I got a job at Star Sporting Goods on Highland, just south of Sunset.  And then in a freak accident, the first week of November, I broke my leg.  So I didn’t show up in Alta a week later.

This was before the days of cell phones.  And you can only imagine how depressed I was.

I never called Grubiss.

He kept waiting for me to arrive.

Finally, just after New Year’s, he gave up.  And went back to K.C.

And I never saw him again.  Until Tuesday night.

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time

I was embarrassed.  I was shocked.  After all, I’d left Grubiss in the lurch.

But he didn’t remember it the same way, he seemed not to care.

So over iceberg lettuce and runny dressing we caught up.

Or mostly, I listened.  How Steve had gone back to law school at the University of Kansas, and had then practiced law in K.C.  How being too far from the mountains, he had eventually quit, and moved to Colorado, where he’d gotten married.

But then that turned sour.  And he ventured to Oregon.  And then Taos, where he now makes his home.

I could hardly speak.

This was one of my closest friends.  Yet I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in thirty two years.

And then, out of the blue, he started telling stories about my father.  Recalling not only shared memories, but stories I had forgotten.  Even  reciting the famous joke about the Fagowees.

I told a few tales, one about getting arrested for drunk driving the night John Lennon was shot.  But mostly I listened.

I implored Felice to tell the tale of spending the summer in Hawaii, with her father’s American Express card.

And John informed Grubiss that both his parents were gone.

I said my dad was dead too.  And I learned all these years later, that Steve’s father was a famous World War II pilot.

Finally, as the din in the restaurant died, we exited.

I rode back to the condo in Grubiss’ ’92 Dodge Stealth, the engine of which he’d rebuilt himself.

And when finally back in the condo heat, I was caught between two worlds.  The one I presently live in, and the one where I used to reside, back in Vermont.

Retiring after midnight, I had nightmares involving every facet of my life.  From my college days to my marriage.  And when I awoke, we all went to breakfast.

And then John, who’d put this reunion together, having Googled Grubiss, started packing for his trip back to Denver.  I implored Grubiss to stay.  To ski.

But the snow was too firm, he said.

And then I realized, he was the same person he’d always been.  He still made decisions the same way.  Enthusiastically agreeing, and then debating the proper course of action.

And the three of us are sitting there, in the downstairs bedroom, and suddenly I realized I’d been there before.  On winter mornings in college.  The endless philosophical bullshit sessions.

John left.  Grubiss, vowing to come back when we returned, when the conditions were good, exited too.  And then Felice and I hit the mountain.

But I couldn’t ski.  I lost an edge in the back bowls and almost tumbled.  If I’d been anywhere close to the bottom, I’d have quit.

But I’m not a quitter.  And that’s one of the many things I had in common with Grubiss.  Both of us could play by the rules, but oftentimes tested them.  We knew the game, but didn’t want to play it.  Which left us in a strange netherworld.

Steve had gone on to get an MBA.  He was number one in his class at the University of New Mexico.  But having achieved this personal goal, he turned down the job offer that came with it.  That just wasn’t the point.

His life was not about what was expected, but what felt good.  It was not about slacking, but achievement.  Even if the achievement was incomprehensible to those in the mainstream.

I made it to the lift.  But after a long traverse from the top of the mountain to our next descent, I stopped.  I felt like I had to speak, or I’d cry.  When Felice came up nearby, I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.  Finally, she asked me if I would see Grubiss again.

And I was reminded of my mother attending her thirtieth college reunion, and bonding with all these buddies she hadn’t seen in eons.  Thereafter, they all became close friends again.  And still are.  Because the people you meet in college…  It’s when you’re still unformed, still raw, when you still have dreams, and plot how you’re going to achieve them.

I’d like to tell you I’ve recovered.  But I don’t know where to place this rendezvous, this story.  If I’d had a laptop atop Vail I could have nailed it.  But when I got back to the condo, I was so drained I could barely stay awake, never mind type.

And although we skied yesterday morning, the rest of the day was consumed with our return.

And now I’d like to move on, and forget what happened.  But I’ve got nowhere to place this story, these feelings.

Grubiss’ hair has turned gray.  A good portion of mine has gone.  The hourglass has more sand at the bottom than the top.  This is my life.  How very strange.

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