Humor is the best medicine. My mood changes as I write. What I saw before as annoying now seems comic. As a writer it sometimes takes me time to realize that a situation is funny. The essay, “The Bagel Pusher,” is a great example. I did not think it was funny but rather annoying when I first started to pack bagels in the little niches in my suitcase. It chafed me when I unpacked and my clothes smelled of bagels. And the comments my transplanted friends made, those who had moved from New York to Vail and claimed only New York bagels were good, irritated me. As time went on I realized that the whole situation was offbeat, comical. What was it about these ordinary bagels that caused these transplants to act so eccentrically? And thus it is with each essay here. As I experienced each sticky wicket in the end I always exclaimed, “This will make a hilarious essay.” By the way look at the photo of my good friend thinking about doing exercise and the ski jackets thrown haphazedly in the back as if they couldn’t wait to take them off. Anyone care to do an essay?
Those of you who still use landlines and get these outlandish anonymous phone calls will appreciate this article. Yes, I wrote this article many years ago but nothing really changes only how it is put across.
PUSHING FOR THAT EXTRA PHONE CALL Newsday, February 28, 1986.
So it has finally happened – a letter form my local telephone company asking me if I want them to provide me with somebody to talk to.
How does the phone company know that my children haven’t phoned or written me, that I am divorced, that my friends are all off on trips that I can’t afford and that on the whole things have been discouragingly too quiet around here?
The letter urged gently, “It’s great to have people to talk to, whenever you feel like it. You can dial Phone-A-Friend 24 hours a day.”
Really, Ma Bell, are your trying to tell me what to do?
As if guessing that my pride is getting its dander up the letter coyly added:
“… nobody knows who you are or where you are unless you want them to.”
The enclosed brochure offered three phone numbers each costing less initially than the price of a bag of potato chips I consume while vegetating in front of the TV.
One number would put me in touch with those whose “kids are driving (their mother) up the wall,” but whose mothers, would, nevertheless, still have the sang-froid to exchange recipes with me.
The second number would let me chat with those “aching to talk about last night’s game… break dancing and the latest rock,” and the third number promised to introduce me to those wanting to go over retirement ideas… books…”
While I like mothers (goodness knows I am one myself), as well as grandmothers (hope to be one myself one of these days) and I do somewhat understand teens (didn’t two of my own nearly wear me out), I must say, that for the price of a bag of potato ships I am ready, at this point of my life, for something more exciting than polite chats about hobbies or rock records.
Use your imagination, Ma Bell. As long as you are putting people in touch with each other, why not let me talk to someone like Paul Newman?
Don’t get the wrong idea now. It’s not what you think.
True to the suggestion in your letter no matter how much Newman will ask I won’t tell him who I am. I just want to compare recipes with him. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that he has some recipes that he has not yet confided to his fans.
Or, how about arranging a chat with Jane Fonda? I am dying to ask her if she truly and honestly really does all those exercises every day. It would make my day to hear that she does not.
I have this tremendous desire to tell Patricia Neal that she and I are the same age and that I understand what it’s like to be single at this stage of life.
Wait a minute!
What is that “drip, drip,” I hear in the background?
Oh no, my shower has started to leak again.
Listen, Ma Bell, before we get in touch with Paul Newman, Jane Fonda or Patricia Neal, do you happen to know the number of a good plumber in my area?
NOT A SKIER? NOT INTERESTED IN THE HISTORY OF SKIING? YOU MAY WANT TO SCROLL DOWN TO THE NEXT ARTICLE.
Published in Colorado Enterprise Sunday Extra
An Age of Innocence: Skiing & the Hysteria of Change
“Relax, relax and tell me what brings you to the only psychiatrist in the world specializing in dysfunctional skiers,” asked Dr. Schnurtbart, a small man with white bushy hair and brown piercing eyes.
“I took a private ski lesson,” I sobbed, “and told the instructor that I had started skiing when I was three. The ski instructor looked at me as if he were judging a horse’s age and said, “Lady, with the bad habits ingrained in you for over 50 years, you’re going to need at least 100 hours of lessons.”
“One hundred hours of lessons… I understand now why you are sobbing,” Dr. Schnurtbart growled.
“That instructor made me feel as if my whole ski life had been wasted,” I moaned. “All those twisting of the shoulder and jump turns – all for naught!”
“No, no,” Dr. Schnurtbart protested, “not for naught. I remember those days. You have what we psychiatrists call style and method disorder. It happens to many older skiers, but talking about the different methods will clear it up. Close your eyes. What comes to mind?”
“Doctor do remember what skiing used to be like?,” I began . “No formal lines for the rope tows. If you were really a klutz,” I added, laughing for the first time in weeks, “you wouldn’t know how to stop and knock everyone over who was standing in line, as everyone tried to get up again, you wouldn’t know whose leg was whose!”
“Now the lines are so orderly,” said the doctor, with a nod.
“The equipment was so different,” I continued. “I still have dreams where I’m waxing and waxing my skis. We had to wax for different weather. And the boots! We had plain leather hiking boots, and the heel came up on the ski.
“But then we did get sophisticated. Our boots soles needed plates that fitted into the ski, and you loaded the heel into a steel spring on the ski. We thought skiing couldn’t get much better.”
Warming to my memories, Dr. Schnurtbart got up, and his beard bobbed up and down as he demonstrated the kick turns we used to do.
“That’s right!” I said, watching the doctor kick. “We used to ski across the mountain, and to turn would lift one ski perpendicular, turn it in the other direction, and swing the other ski over. And ski across again.”
The doctor nodded, and added, quietly, “It was hard work. I used to walk up the mountain and ski down, do one, maybe two runs a day. If I had to do that today I wouldn’t be skiing.”
“But the style of skiing changed again in the ‘40s and ‘50s,” he added, looking at me to see my reaction. “The Bildstein heel-spring was replaced by Kandahar cable bindings. The cables tied the heel down so skiers could lean forward. And skiing changed.”
“It sure did,” I agreed. “I thought that once I could do a quick parallel by twisting my derriere and keeping my knees bent that I’d be ready for the Olympics. Now I need 100 lessons to break that habit. And there were even more styles!” I said angrily.
“Ja, ja,” the doctor concurred. He was almost singing as he recalled. “This is how we did it. We advanced this right foot, keeping the feet close together. We bent the knees slightly, we swing the body back, naturally, brought out rump and hips around sharply by turning to the right while we leaned with our upper body toward the hillside, as if we were hugging the mountain for safety. And then over the years we went from a carved turn to almost a jumping turn…”
“Yes, but the skiing changed again to the Arlberg method,” I added. The snowplow, snowplow turn, stem turn, stem Christiana and parallel swing with the body rotating in the direction of the turn.”
I sighed and asked, “What to do? All these different instructions!”
As I stared at the diplomas on the doctor’s walls, including one “for completing with honors Special Symposium on Ski Hysteria, I whispered, “Doctor, how is your skiing?”
“I do the new method,” he answered. “Keep my upper body downhill and move my legs by flexing my ankles and thrusting my body downhill as I turn. I keep my weight well on the downhill, and I never turn my shoulders.”
“But let me tell you a secret,” said Dr. Schnurtbart, leaning closer to me lowering his voice. “Your teacher was exaggerating. He must have had a bad day. Trust me, take a few lessons and you too will ski well.” And then he asked, his piercing brown eyes opening wide. “You have changed your equipment, haven’t you? I mean, you’re not still skiing with those old wooden skis and leather boots, are you?”
Do you all remember Clifford Irving? Let me not be judgmental. Let the essay which was published in the American Society For Journalists and Authors Newsletter speak for itself. And, you all who were born after 2000 feel free to absorb this as a history lesson while you are laughing.
A FEW WORDS TO MR. CLIFFORD IRVING ABOUT THE MOVIE THE HOAX
The movie, The Hoax, wakes up many old memories. You see Mr. Irving, I was a young writer trying to cope with rejection slips when you were sent to prison in 1972 for lying to McGraw-Hill that Howard Hughes, the prominent and enigmatic recluse, had commissioned you to write his biography. Your actions – fake interviews, prison, a publisher’s big bucks advance, Swiss numbered accounts, trips to Switzerland and, of course, cherchez la femme – gave you great material for a book and then the movie.
We want you to know that there is a certain group of writers who sympathized then and as well as today with your predicament. We fully understand what drove you to seek fame and fortune in the manner you did. It was the publishers and their editors who kept sending you rejection slips. Furthermore, when your books were finally published they did not become best sellers.
As a fellow writer I would like to tell you in my own modest way how I have coped with rejection slips. In 1972 when you originally lied to McGraw Hill rejection slips came by mail and I had enough rejection slips to paper a wall, and that is exactly what I have done. It is true my husband did curse as he was pasting them on the wall, and kept expounding, “Maybe, if you quit writing and took a job like everyone else we could afford a professional paperhanger.”
Once the wall was finished it was sublime. It became the conversation piece at our cocktail parties. Who else could claim such a wall? Today, I download my email rejection slips and add them to my wall. It keeps everything contemporary.
Our guests maintain that a rejection such as “Madame: Your writing style does not conform to our requirements,” does not sound so bad after a martini. After two martinis some guests feel they can even read between the lines a gentle attempt on the part of the editor to inspire me to write better.
The publishers who send standard rejection slips are poohooed at all our cocktail parties as unimaginative, spineless jellyfish.
Some guests play games like “Did the editor really read the manuscript or did the assistant take care of the whole caboodle for the powers that be.”
Another game is “Who is the most tactful equivocator?” The editor who wrote, “This book deserves to be published but it does not fit into our present marketing structure,” has gotten the most accolades at our cocktail parties.
It is only fair to warn you that if you have such a wall you have to continually watch the fingers of antique collectors. My New York Herald Tribune rejection slip dated May 12, 1965 is considered a collector’s item. You might be interested to know that the handwriting on those older rejection slips (before the days of email) get a lot of criticism. I have personally seen broadminded Mothers put their hands over their children’s eyes – they shouldn’t see what kind of a handwriting an educated person can end up with.
But to get back to you, Mr. Irving. Movie theaters owe you their thanks. You have offered them the kind of stuff that makes the public turn off such shows as Let’s Make A Deal, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to run to their local movie theater. As for me, you have helped me to add again to my rejection slip wall by writing about you.
Why don’t you start such a wall? You don’t know what your future is. The beauty of the plan is that all you need are walls and paste and those two items you’ll find wherever you’ll end up – in Ibiza, inside a Swiss bank vault. Should you be in confinement for any reason whatsoever you can always spend your time aiming darts at the rejection slips. Believe me, if it weren’t for my “wall” and my darts I don’t know to what extremes I might have been driven. Who knows I might even have ended up in jail.
Edith Lynn Beer
Edith Lynn Beer is a freelance writer. In between rejection slips she has been published in Elle, Neue Zuricher Zeitung, The Sunday New York Times, Denver Post.
Published in Colorado VAIL VALLEY MAGAZINE
A Bagel Pusher?
I am a New Yorker who like so many others come to Vail to ski. Sometimes I teach creative writing at the local Colorado Mountain College, and 1 have thus gotten to know some of the people living here, including New York transplants.
I learned quickly that there is a difference between the general population and the New Yorkers. The difference is something called bagels.
Even though I am from Manhattan, it wasn’t until I spent time in Vail that I discovered what a bagel means to a true New Yorker. It doesn’t matter which borough or at what store you buy those bagels, as long as they are from New York City.
One time when I was invited to stay in the home of some former New Yorkers living in the outskirts of Vail, I brought as a hostess gift a few dozen bagels. Next day I heard my hostess tell her friends on the phone, “We have bagels straight from New York, and I am storing some in the freezer.”
It may be my imagination but I could swear she was implying that it would be a social coup to get invited to her house for a breakfast of defrosted New York bagels. Another time flying into Eagle airport a friend, also originally from New York, picked me up. “We are invited to a pot luck dinner tonight,” she told me enthusiastically.
“Good, I’ll give them a few of the bagels I brought.’
“You will not,” she protested. “Those are all for me. Besides the hostess is not from New York, what does she know about bagels?”
When among themselves New Yorkers talk about the New York bagel as one might for a long-lost love or Mother’s apple pie. They will fight about which store in New York sells the best bagels.
When I asked my New York friends where they bought their bagels before moving here, it incited a furor I would never have imagined – like pitting Yankee fans against Met fanatics.
“You must bring them from Zabars,” one insisted only to be interrupted by another voice who urged, “There is only one H&H.”
Not paying any attention, another friend claimed, “Ess-A-Bagel makes them like no one else,” and blew a demonstrative kiss. “Nonsense,” someone from Queens contended. “I knew this little bakery around the corner from my apartment, and I would never, never dream of buying a bagel elsewhere but there.”
Exasperated, I shouted, “They make bagels in Colorado.”
“It’s not the same,” they all moaned. One rationalized, “The water is different.”
Another, “It must be the New York air; it’s too dry here.”
Still another: “Could be an ingredient they know only in New York.”
So now when I go to Colorado I tuck a few bagels in my ski boot bag, in empty corners in my big suitcase and even in my tall ski bag. Never mind that for days when I wear my ski clothes I smell like a walking bakery – my ski sweater like an onion bagel, my mittens like pumpernickel, my hat like sesame. It’s all worth it.
In gratitude I have been offered complimentary ski-and-boot storage at the bottom of Vail’s Lionshead, just steps from the gondola. Journalists have volunteered to promote my courses in their articles. I have also received precious information about where I might rent a condo at a reasonable price.
When it is time for me to leave Vail, my “New York Bagel Fan Club,” as I have come to call them, all ask meaningfully, “You will visit in the summer?”
“Probably,” I answer as mentally I am already packing bagels among my T-shirts, around my tennis racquet and inside my hiking boots.
Why tell them that I eat the local bagels and they taste just as good to me as a New York bagel? Why tell them that many bakers in Colorado make their bagels from scratch? Why disillusion them by telling them that some New York bakers (like many bakers all over the country) use premixes?
After all I have a good thing going in Vail even though the first week out here my clothes smell like – you know – cinnamon raisin, rye and 26 other flavors.