Thursday, December 23, 2010


Jackie Phillips was at once the most-deserving and least-deserving person to be honored that day.

Jackie Phillips was singled out in front of fifty other people for a reason. She was a role model for everyone else in the room. Like an enlisted soldier promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in front of his unit, Jackie became the model student everyone else present should have aspired to be.

And yet the irony of it all reflected in Jackie's expression. Jackie's expression seemed to ask, "What, are you kidding me? Can I just leave or something... ?"

Jackie would revisit this moment with me and all our friends many times over the next few years.

"Remember that day in chorus?" she would begin. "Remember how Mr. Hammond stopped everything and said people should pay attention as closely as I did even though I could not sing well? Remember how he suggested that the good behavior I displayed got people like me who could not sing into chorus?"

To be fair Jackie was the one who said she could not sing, and she wore her reservations about concert choir on her sleeve. But this was also the Jackie Phillips who did not believe she deserved to be crowned the junior prom queen the year before. Tiaras were pretty stupid, she insisted.

This was the same Jackie Phillips who referred to herself as a "closet fat kid" because she ate all the time. While her appetite was impressive for a girl her size anyone could nevertheless lift her as easily as they could lift an American Girl doll.

So perhaps only Jackie believed she was not deserving of the public recognition she received in chorus class that day. Perhaps only Jackie Phillips was convinced she could not sing. Perhaps she did not deserve to be called The Only Earnest Student In Concert Choir. Perhaps she should just have been called The Biggest Square In Concert Choir.

It makes sense to me. Any senior who did their homework in study hall was a square in my book, and that's exactly what Jackie Phillips did.

I mean, who does their homework in study hall?


Chris Mazzone was taller than I was, and he should not have attempted it.

Chris Mazzone towered over me. He was over six feet tall. Surely that was problematic given what we were trying to do.

Surely Chris understood that we were warning him against it, against trying what we had almost seriously injured ourselves doing. It was all in the name of fun and adventurous thrills, and Chris should not have tried it.

But now Jason, John and myself were sitting in the woods were we had landed, each of us alone but aware that others who had tried it were nearby. It was midnight and the barren trees were black against the snow lit by the floodlights in the backyard. We sat and waited for the sound of Chris Mazzone hitting one of the two things you always find in woods like these: a stone wall or a tree trunk.

People talk of miracles at Christmas, and Jason, John and I had just been handed three at once. It was a miracle that Jason and John had not broken their arms or hit their heads. It was a miracle I had not broken both my legs or sent tiny fragments of bone deep into my ligaments when both my feet collided with a tree trunk jutting out from behind a boulder.

I had merely done just what Jason and John had done before me. I followed their lead, and why wouldn't I? Jason and John had as much common sense as anyone I had ever met. I would trust them in the outdoors any day.

Their sense of deliberation and knack for well-esecuted plans had always been inspiring. If I saw them attempt to steal a grizzly bear's cubs I would probably consider jumping right in on the action.

They were also two of the most spiritual people I had ever met. If they asked a crowd of people to join them in drinking the Kool Aid I would just assume it was a substitute for the wine received at communion.

So I drank the Kool Aid. They tried to offer me some sound advice from the spots where they crashed. They had told me not to try it. "Spit the Kool Aid out, Dan," they pleaded.

Shortly thereafter my two feet met the hard trunk of a tree jutting out of a boulder soles first, and I became the third recipient of a miracle that night.

Surely Chris would not do the same.

Surely Chris would see that his tall frame would be even more difficult to maneuver on that icy slope. Surely Chris could picture himself being carried down the slippery sheet of ice like a white birch tree pulled down a cascading waterfall.

Maybe his height didn't endanger him at all. I don't know; I know little about physics. I was just about convinced he stood greater chances of busting his long limbs in a place like that.

Anyway, what group of people receives four miracles in one night? Talk about a crapshoot.

And yet there he was beside us in the snow, limbs intact after he had slid feet first down that hill. He had rode that layer of frozen rain covering the ground like it was a bobsled track, and he was alright. He was miracle number four.

So after we had all spent a moment taking in just how dangerous our cheap thrills had been, after our palpitating heartbeats slowed and disbelief sent us into a mental stupor, we walked back up and out of the woods into Shea Quinn's backyard. We walked up the steps of his back deck and entered his kitchen. Shea was inside doing just what he often did around midnight whenever he was home on leave- he was drinking black coffee and cooking.

The four of us that were lucky to be standing on two feet were about to do what any group of people who received multiple miracles deserved to do- eat a pancake breakfast before 1 a.m.

"You guys are fucking idiots," said Jeremy Slonski.

Chris and I looked at one another and smirked. Jeremy must have been more surprised at Jason and John, the two people with a lot of common sense between them.

Chris and I were not surprised at what we had done. We were used to doing stupid things.


It was almost midnight by the time we piled into the station wagon in the crowded parking lot. There were six of us total, five teenages and one adult. We all smelled like the crowd we had just left. We smelled like the marijuana cloud that the concertgoers had created and imbued into our clothing though none of us smoked pot ourselves.

By the time us kids had dragged ourselves into the old station wagon we reeked from three hours spent standing on the lawn of the ampitheatre with our heads involuntarily caught in a pot cloud and our feet in beer-soaked turf. Dave Matthews and his band had been off stage for half an hour by the time we all piled into the car. A good full hour of sitting idle in traffic awaited us.

What else to do besides put in yet another of the six or seven Dave Matthews Band albums we had brought on our drive? Shea Quinn and Tim Atherton had already fallen asleep in the very back of the car. In the front and middle sections of the car sat three wide-eyed and wide awake concert-lovers looking to stretch the night out just a little more.

We put the album in and began to sing along. We hoped this would ease our disappointment having not heard some of our favorite track played live that night in Hartford. It did for awhile.

It did until the two boys in the middle seats- one a nervous-by-nature tenth grader named Dan and the other a tall, gangly dude of the same age named Chris- decided that singing along to the songs playing on the sound system was just too boring for this time of night. Why not speak the lyrics instead? Wouldn't that be fun for everyone?

It did get a big chuckle out of Jason, the son of the man driving the car and chaperoning this event. Jason looked back from the passenger seat at his two friends as they happily chanted the lyrics to every song in a truly awful monotone. Oh, this is fun, they thought as they reveled in their ridiculous idea. They were all too happy to entertain anyone they ever encountered with half-brained ideas just like this one.

Yes, Dan and Chris were certainly thoroughly enjoying themselves and both were silently thinking , Wow, I am such a funny guy!

And the driver? He was the family man forced to sit in a car full of hyperactive high-schoolers that reeked of smoke, sweat and all the grime shared by a thousand people standing too close to one another. There were the smells, the traffic, the fact that it was a late night turning into a long morning. On top of all that two moronic high schoolers were sitting directly behind him in the station wagon speaking the words to some of his favorite Dave Matthews songs. It must have been a toxic cocktail. A migraine ensued.

The driver speaks with his son in the passenger seat and politely suggests that the two guests in the middle CUT IT OUT. Why not just listen to the songs instead of reciting the lyrics as if it were the Pledge Of Allegiance?

Chris and Dan shut up, the traffic subsided, and the crew could finally head home. Few words were exchanged until someone suggested they all stop at Dunkin Donuts once they rolled back into town. Iced Vanilla Bean lattes all around, everyone!

Jason and his father very generously rewarded two obnoxious people in the drive-thru at three in the morning. There is nothing qute like the lingering aromas of a concert mixed with vanilla flavoring.


I sat in the fluffly bed of snow uncomfortablly resting my back on the slope, my skis and legs in a pretzel-like knot beneath my torso. My muscles hurt; my ankles felt strained against my ski boots.

I was laughing hard and deep when I stood up though there was no one close enough to hear me. The others had continued on skiing down hill into the wooded base below.

It was absolute madness to be skiing in the woods like this. How could you not follow Shea Quinn though? He knew what he was doing. He could navigate the glades on any ski resort. Shea approached every ski trail with confidence. It didn't matter if the trail was marked or not. Shea hatched crazy plans on ski slopes, and just watching him cut sharply around stumps and logs in a thickly-wooded glade made anyone following want to jump right into it.

The wind was cold and biting. The snow was deep, and it weighed my skis down as I tried to pull myself together. I was still laughing hysterically when I saw Shea.

He came barreling down the slope toward the middle of the forest. He was turning as handily as he could at that speed. I remember hearing him yell "Oooooh!" as he went straight through that dead tree and split it in half. The top of the trunk flipped over his back as he made impact.

Shea crashed in the snow a few feet away. A broken tree trunk stood two feet above the snow up slope. I looked at Shea, and we both erupted into one of the deepest fits of laughter I have ever known.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Erin would always let me drive us to the ice cream stand.

It was a summer staple- Buttonwoods homemade ice cream. It is thick, it is fattening, it is delicious, and it comes in oh-so-many varieties.

Erin and I would set aside entire summer afternoons to drive a half hour away down Connecticut's backroads just to devour some filling variety in a waffle cone. And we would only listen to the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's." Those were the two highlights of that brief stint home away from school: ice cream and The Greatest Rock N' Roll Album Ever (According To Most).

"What would you think if I sang out a tune/ Would you stand up and walk out on me?"

Ledyard to Preston and back again, weekend after weekend. Ice cream became a fourth meal for me at least once a week.

"Lend me your ears, and I'll sing you a song..."

And Erin would always let me drive despite my poor performance with my brand new Hyundai that summer. I had a manual for the first time ever, and I sucked with it. I would have that sedan inching along like a tractor running on little diesel. It lurched and it stuttered. I often stalled out in the middle of intersections.

Does it really matter though when you have music?

"Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies...."

One day Erin asked to drive my standard home. We had four blocks to go before we were at her house. Sure, why not, Erin? Go right ahead. You're a responsible person. By all means, take the wheel.

There were four blocks to go. They were many twists and turns, but there is always the subliminal joy of The Beatles' greatest album to calm all who pay attention to the Fab Four's simple message of love.

And then the car started to lurch. The car inched forward. The car came to a startling halt. The car accelerated again. The car lurched to a halt. And so on for four blocks.

"Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/ We hope you have enjoyed the show..."

Lurching, halting. Starting, stopping. It was like riding an ornery thoroughbred, and yes, I do know what that feels like.

"I'm fixin' a hole where the rain gets in/ It stops my mind from wanderin' where it will go..."

We made it up Erin's sloping driveway, and I realized I had just experienced what every other passenger in my car had to deal with on occassion.

Public Service Announcement: Always wait one half hour after eating dessert before you jump into a 2004 Hyundai Elantra with Dan and Erin.


Jeremy had a special bond with our boss, and at times it seemed he wasn't Jeremy's boss at all. It seemed like Jeremy could do whatever he wanted at the tiny tourist eatery in Connecticut that gave us our mininum wage.

Granted our boss was downright ridiculous. He "managed" a restaurant during the day and studied to be a doctor at night. He had all that medical training and still insisted that homosexuality was in fact a third gender. He insisted the bread we used for sandwiches and hot dogs was never stale, that it should be sold no matter what. It never mattered that we could slam our fist into it without making a dent.

One morning two customers were seated at a table anxiously awaiting an enormous breakfast they had ordered complete with buttermilk pancakes and scrambled eggs. Our coworker opened the spout to the maple syrup dispenser and ants crawled out on to the hungry couple's plates.

We asked our boss how this could happen. He said there was nothing that could be done. Nature was to blame. Ants would come out of the syrup dispenser just as surely as bees would continue to make honey.

Jeremy reveled in all of this. He could egg his boss on and call him wildly inappropriate names. He could make his own hours. He could make my hours. He was my manager before any of us had job titles more descriptive than "short order cook."

Jeremy could say and do whatever he wanted. Say for instance I dropped a Snapple bottle on the ground, and it spilled iced tea everywhere. Our boss would question my sexual orientation. After all if I could not hold on to a glass bottle how did I expect to hold on to a girl?

Had Jeremy dropped a bottle he could probably have just asked our boss to clean it up for him, and then I would have to do it.

While Jeremy could make his own hours I had mine cut until the boss had me working only four a week. He didn't like firing people outright, so this was an easier way to get me to quit.

So Jeremy and I carried all these memories to college. And so we made a very special phone call around Christmastime during our freshman year. We prank-called our former boss from our dining hall even though I hadn't worked for him in nearly two years. We asked that a special order of oatmeal be delivered two hours north to my dorm room in Boston "PRONTO!"

Had it arrived it probably would have had ants in it. It's only natural after all. That's a doctor's professional opinion.


Americans spend far too much time looking at merchandise they will never buy.

Americans spend too much of their precious time looking at shelves and shelves of stuff they would like to own but can't afford. They park on wide fields of concrete outside giant suburban shopping outlets housing a Best Buy, a Borders or a Bed, Bath and Beyond.

One can walk into any one of these stores and lose all track of time and forget why they arrived in the first place. Eric and I did this more often than anyone I knew. We did this religiously. We would set aside entire Friday nights to drive to Borders and Best Buy in Waterford, Connecticut with long lists of CDs we thought we would like to buy.

I still have one of those lists saved on my computer. It is over four years old, and few items have been deleted since then. That's surprisingly unproductive.

Instead of walking in with a purchase in mind and walking out with that purchase in hand we would often just browse.

Eric was my classic rock sensei in those days. He knew what I should buy before I knew what I was looking for. I was told I should make moves on Bowie's Ziggy Stardust before I nabbed Alladine Sane. Springsteen's Born To Run comes before his Born In The U.S.A. (I still don't own the latter). And in his opinion The Rolling Stones' Singles Collection was not a good value at $60 a pop.

I came in armed with knowledge and often left with a list longer than the one I showed up with. We would spend an hour at a time just finding albums from artists we had never heard of. We would carry stacks of six or seven albums at a time to the preview stations. A working preview station meant a high school kid could spend a lot of time listening to an album he could not afford.

For example, Eric and I once went in intending to buy one album apiece. I left with The Police's Synchronicity. Eric left with four CDs that weren't even on his list. Yes, the preview station was a tempting device. It was like playing the slots.

Once Eric and I walked into Border's and came to a stunning revelation. We approached the music stands and noticed a middle-aged man staring very intently at a shelf in the DVDs section. He was not, it turns out, interested in the material made for our age group.

He stood there with knees bent, his hands jutting violently into the pockets in his leather jacket, and his back arched backwards. He just stood there and studied everything for sale in front of him for about ten minutes.

What did we learn that day? If you must spend a lot of time browsing merchandise at a megastore, stick to the music section. It's good to be young and broke and listening to a great album for the very first time. Some people, on the other hand, invest their time and energy in all the wrong places.


There were few freshmen seemingly capable of handling band camp, and Emily Ayer was one of them.

Emily Ayer, dedicated flutist and avid supporter of the Ledyard Music Department, would surely be able to handle band camp. She had done so well in the middle school band. She paid attention in band like she paid attention to everything else in life. She was diligent and earnest. She had perfect posture. She held her flute up with the same confident poise she displayed in everything she did everyday.

Emily Ayer had poise, and people with poise can handle band camp.

On top of all that Emily had the last name synonomous with success in band camp and beyond. She was an Ayer, and Ayers do very well in band camp.

Her older sister Kate was a drum majorette- her sister! Her sister not only told the clueless freshmen what to do; she told the sophomores, the juniors and her fellow seniors what to do!

Yes, any Ayer would do well in any music program, and they would do particularly well in band camp.

While the rest of us would struggle to keep a straight face while we watched one another screw up every single marching corps command, an Ayer would surely do everything asked and more.
While the rest of us arrived late proudly carrying cold Dunkin Donuts iced lattes and get reamed out for it, we were sure Emily Ayer would do just fine.

And Emily Ayer did just fine most of the time. Emily had everything down pat. She put it in all the effort necessary to learn all band formations and flute parts in a timely manner. She arrived on time. Compared to Dan and Chris, Emily was on her game.

There was just one problem. Emily never put her feet on the floor.

Emily Ayer was new to band camp, and she did everything right except put her feet on the floor.

The rules governing a high school band are pretty straightforward. One must arrive on time with their instrument (Dan broke this rule). One should not eat in class (Katie broke this rule). One should wear nice clothes and look presentable for concerts (Chris broke this rule). One should never talk when the conductor is discussing something with members of another section (almost everyone broke this rule). Emily Ayer did not break any of these rules.

However, one should also always keep two feet firmly planted on the floor. Emily Ayer often had only one foot on the floor and the other crossed over her leg. The band teacher would notice this minor transgression every single time his baton was raised and the whole band was waiting for the signal to begin playing. Everyone was silent, and everyone was paying close attention to whatever the teacher was about to say.

Baton raised, he would simply say, "Feet on the floor, Emily Ayer." It was a command meant for one but heard by all.

We heard it all year, too. It didn't end with band camp.

"Feet on the floor, Emily Ayer."

"Feet on the floor, Emily Ayer."

"Both feet on the floor, please, Emily Ayer."

An Ayer was disrupting the band's zen. She was bad karma. She should shape up or give up.

Emily had too much poise to "give up," but she did leave the band before our sophomore year began. She went on to do great things in Ledyard's concert choir, and this proves our parents right about one thing. It turns out you do have to do some searching before you find an activity that firmly plants your feet.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


By the time we had finished packing the papers into the green three-ring binder it was past five in the morning and Biology had become my least-favorite subject.

It had been eighteen hours of typing, editing, drawing, and analyzing. It began on a Sunday morning and ended just before dawn on Monday. I had never experienced an all-nighter before. I thought an all-nighter was something that could kill you.

Imagine two high school freshmen everyone assumes will work hard for high grades doing their damndest to live up to the expectations set by one of their favorite teachers- Jerry Lentz, biology- and leaving themselves little more than twenty hours before the due date to do so.

It began in Wood Lot II. For those who don't know where that is it's next to Wood Lot I.

Wood Lots I and II were behind the centuries-old stone walls that bordered the high school athletic fields and the school's neighbors' properties. They boasted an imposing array of maples, red and white pines, elms, and oaks.

These trees had all the ingredients for an ecological survey and more: the new-growth sprouting in the canopies; the vines that added still more items to our damn "species list;" the sassafras and the shrubs in the understory that marked "forest gaps!" (dun, dun, dunnn!).

The more time Mike and I spent out in Wood Lot II the more overwhelmed we became by the diversity surrounding us and the immensity of the report hanging over us slated to be well over ninety pages. To a freshman a report over twenty pages long earned someone a doctorate.

And we did spend a lot of time out in the woods. We collected every type of leaf one who expect to find on the ground during autumn in New England. I would come home with a pile of humus and just drop it on my carpeted bedroom floor, all for Mr. Lentz.

This was a man who would speed walk through the woods in a fluorescent yellow running jacket and bright orange hat. You felt you were already failing if you didn't keep stride with him during our classroom trek through the woods and follow his rapid-fire gaze to everything of interest. He made you nervous.

Mike and I were nervous when we agreed to partner up for the project. We were nervous until we spent a Saturday morning out in Wood Lot II unsupervised and did what all well-meaning freshmen with no sense of what deadlines meant do. We just, well, goofed off. We threw rocks at one another. I sang songs about LSD I heard on the radio, and Mike sat in a tree and watched potheads go riding through the woods on motorbikes.

Had we kept on that track and not buckled down to do the work in front of us who knows what could have been. We could very well have ended up in a Seattle grunge band.

The weeks at school and weekends at home passed quickly. One Sunday in late October it occurred to both of us that a massive project was due the next day. We had made some progress- some. We had written a few paragraphs on succession and ecological borders. We had drawn some pictures of leaves we had discovered, veins and all. It did not amount to anything close to the ninety-plus pages we were staring down.


The day before that dreadful Monday went something like this:

Sunday Morning: Mike arrives at Dan's house. He and Dan survey everything scattered on the carpet in Dan's bedroom, a mass of papers and graphs all needing a home in a three-ring binder.
Sunday Afternoon: Dan and Mike discover the art of delegation. Dan agrees to write the section on some topic or other. Mike agrees to write another section on something else.

Sunday Evening: Dan and Mike discover the art of procrastination. They don't like putting all this time into a project about stuff in the woods. They realize they would much rather be playing tennis. They do the next best thing. They launch tennis balls at one another from across the room.

Sunday Night: Dan and Mike focus themselves on typing up their report as panic starts to set in. What happens if you don't turn in an assignment like this on time? Does Mr. Lentz kill people with his bare hands?

The Wee Hours of Monday Morning: Most of the project is in a three-ring binder. Dan is getting cranky. Mike's mom has already volunteered to pick Mike up between four and five a.m. if need be.

The Darkest Hours of Monday Morning: Dan's eyes are glazed. He and Mike are probably still singing rather stupid buzz ballads off the radio. Dan's mother offers them both coffee. Dan chooses ginger ale, incorrectly assuming it "does the trick" as well as any other morning beverage.

Five A.M.: The project is... complete? Really? Mike can go home now? He and Dan look forward to the one hour of sleep they can savor before it is time to wake up for school. Dan is feeling that lightness in the head and limbs that can only mean the body hasn't slept. Does that mean he will vomit all day tomorrow? More importantly is he going to get out of doing his paper route at 6 a.m.?

Epilogue: Mike and Dan get an "A" on the ecological study of Wood Lot II.

The Moral Of The Story: Well, does it really matter what the moral is? Neither Dan nor Mike get enough sleep to this day.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It was three in the morning, and I was exhausted. I was not in my room. I was in Jenny's dorm, but Jenny was still sitting in a hallway giving someone the kind of advice only Jenny Barnett can give.

It was of those moments when you realize it's three in the morning and your weekend is still unfolding in ridiculous ways. It continues to amaze at every turn. The weekend that began the previous morning when I missed not one but two trains to Providence, Rhode Island where Katie Warren waited to drive me to Storrs, Connecticut continued to surprise as I woke up on a dorm-room floor disoriented.

I had arrived nearly thirty-six hours earlier with an especially inconvenient request: Jenny, can we go somewhere and do a load of laundry?

A load of laundry? Why would a freshman arrive at Spring Weekend with a load of dirty laundry?

Well, we can answer that question with another question: How does someone miss two trains in one morning?

Upon arrival I made a phone call in the parking lot outside a freshman dorm. The phone call went something like this:

Dan: Jenny, can I do a load of laundry before we do anything? Something spilled in my bag, and my clothes smell like tiramisu.

Jenny: No, absolutely not.

So the duffel bag dulche was delivered to Jenny's dorm and transformed the room with scents akin to potpouri and Funfetti.

My hostess' first question went something like this:

Jenny: Are you f***ing kidding me, Dan?

I think she repeated that question when I discovered the few pieces of clothing I had brought with me did not include boxers. I would need to make a stop at the student union. It's a good thing I have always been a Huskies fan.

Back to the hard dorm room floor. I was disoriented in part because I did not remember seeing a pile of clothes on Jenny's floor earlier that night. Yet there it was, a dark mass of clothing heaped in a pile next to me.

Or was it? No, it wasn't. Shortly Jenny would pop in and tell me I was sleeping side-by-side with her roomate's boyfriend, my feet in his face and vice-versa.

It was time to move to another room.

As I do so I walk outside and there is Jenny continuing her conversation with someone she met on the walk back from the party that night. It turns out Jenny shared a mutual friend with this boy from East Lyme. He was probably hitting on her. She was not putting up with it nor holding back on her ill feelings toward his skater-punk haircut and his life's ambitions.

Boy: I have a band. I am at UCONN to get a degree, but I plan on making music with my band for a career.

Jenny: Do you know how stupid that is? How do you expect that to work?

That is frank advice. I felt re-oriented.


I stood in the parking lot outside the church and could not wait to depart in a car.

I could not wait. I could not wait to get out on the highway and arrive in the other side of the state.

It would be dark soon. It would be much colder soon. Conditions would be perfect for the adventure that lay ahead.

John, Alec and I stood in the parking lot outside the Methodist church bundled in clothes picked especially for this occassion and we could not wait to depart for the ski resort at Powder Ridge.

The anticipation had been building for weeks. John had invited me, an outsider, to join the church youth group's outing to Poweder Ridge. In the days leading up to the big Friday night event I had sat through hours of excruciatingly-long classes at Ledyard Middle School just counting the hours until that car left for western Connecticut.

This was no ordinary ski resort after all. Yes, it had barely enough trails to be advertised as a ski resort, but it did have one thing few other snow-covered hills could provide: tubing.


How great does that sound? What a concept! All you had to do was ride a lift to the top of the tubing chutes and sit down on one of those donut-shaped inflatable tubes used in swimming pools. One gentle nudge from the lift attendant set you on your way down the lightly-iced track. You just let it rip!

It's a great concept except for two minor details: the nudge was not gentle and the track was more than a little icy.

Now I used to go sledding with my family at the local hot spot in town, a giant hill at Crandall Field. I could not count the number of times I had thrown myself down the snowy slope on an inflated pool tube with my pet Labrador chasing after me.

I had seen and experienced it all. I had doubled in a tube with Katie Warren in first grade only to watch her launch off and land her torso on a man-made jump. That was funny!

I had been in a toboggan carrying six family members that careened into a stone wall in the woods behind my aunt and uncle's house in the mountains of New Hampshire. That was fun!

At best I believed I would love tubing. At worst I thought it would be, well... a little lame.

John felt the same way. We both loved the idea of jumping in that tube and going nuts! Imagine the velocity, if tubing was, in fact, not, well... a little lame.

We had built this trip up in our minds for weeks, and what a perfect time to indulge in anticipation! What better way to get the Christmas blues out of your head than to send your teenage body on an adrenaline rush.

And the conditions were perfect for thrill-seekers from New England who took this time of year seriously. It was cold and growing darker by the time we were set to depart from that parking lot outside the church.

John had bought brand new clothes just for the occassion. He wore brand new snowboarding pants and a brand new shirt only a true 'boarder would wear.

But we weren't 'boarding. We were tubing and we did not know what that would entail until we did in fact arrive at Powder Ridge. We didn't know why we signed a waiver detailing the dangers of tubing. We didn't know until we had arrived at the top of the tubing run, sat down in the tube without any apprehension, and got that not-so-gentle nudge over the icy lip and into the track.

I still have never felt a more-nauseating, more-disorienting sensation in all my life. The first time my tube spun around my body initiated chemical reactions within my nervous system that had yet gone untested. My blood must have run backwards.

Around and around and around again. It felt like I was forever accelerating, and the nausea clouded my head.

Was there anything written on that waiver about seizures? Would I recognize a seizure if I had one?

The question was irrelevant. Whatever one called this experience it had to be worse than a seizure.

I don't know how long it took, but my tube finally came to a surprisingly graceful stop at the bottom of the slope as it lightly bounced off the barricade at the bottom. I glanced back up at the icy highway to hell I had just come down wondering if I should check for vital signs.

I found John at the bottom. He was ahead of me in line and had gone down the track shortly before I did.

I stared at John in disbelief. What the hell was that? It was absolute hell. I took one look at John and realized he felt the same way.

As I stood there waiting for my heart to retreat from my throat and slow down to a simple fight-or-flight cadence I must have been thinking two things. First, can tubing reverse all the progress a kid has made in puberty? Second, was I a "wuss?"

A middle school boy can only imagine one thing worse than losing ground in the long and painful journey through puberty, and that is being labelled a "wuss."

The only way to find out was to go through it again. After all, the first time may have been a fluke.

And even after you go through the motions a second time and nearly overfire all the neurons in your brain you never truly know if what you are doing to yourself is a fluke until you try it a third time.

After the third run John and I stood up, knees shaking, and looked at one another with our mouths open and the fear lighting up our eyes.

This royally sucked. We were wusses.

We resigned ourselves to this and decided to walk away from all of it: the icy slope; the long line of happy campers riding the lift to the top; the friendly attendant offering the "gentle nudge."

We did what teenage wusses in this situation always do. We sat down to a disgusting dinner of ski resort cafeteria food, the kind of greasy cheeseburgers and hot dogs that provide that warm comforting buffer from the cold life on the slopes.

John sat across from me, brand-new clothing and all, and we discussed how absurd tubing is. We should have been prepared for this.

We were, after all, the only wusses I knew that hated roller coasters. How embarassing.