Call Me Usual

Is there anything in the world for which it is worth getting up at half past four in the morning? Well, giving birth maybe. Catching a plane, I guess. But skiing? Is skiing worth getting up at half past four in the morning? Well, if you'd asked me on Thursday afternoon, I would have said no. I was done with skiing, you see. You remember the last time I went skiing, don't you? I had a sort of epiphany on the slopes that time. And the epiphany was this: "damn, I really suck at this. Why am I doing it again?"

And yet when faced with the rather delicious prospect of getting out of the city during the rainiest weekend of the decade, I decided to give skiing another shot. Hell, I had the snow pants already, and when else are you going to wear snow pants? Better not let a nice pair of snow pants go to waste, that's what I always say, even if they were on sale last year and also just a tad too tight in the waist.

The four of us---me, Sean, and our friends Nathan and Alison---drove up to Nathan's parents' farm on Friday night after work. On Saturday morning---did I mention it was half past four in the morning?---we woke up, pulled on our ski clothes, and blearily dragged ourselves out to the car in order to leave by 5am. Nathan's dad---to whom 5am is a veritable lie-in---was in the kitchen to wave us off. He handed us each a large travel mug of coffee he'd brewed for us, and a full thermos of the same for later. "Now, are you sure you don't want fresh-squeezed orange juice as well?" he asked brightly. "I'm not doing anything right now, I could squeeze you some!"

(Nathan's dad is "the bomb," as I believe the kids are all saying. Or have the kids not said that since the late 1990s? I might need a refresher course in slang.)

The drive to Tahoe took three hours---three actually fairly civil hours; I was rather afraid of who I might reveal myself to be at 5am, but turns out that coffee is a magic elixir---and by 8:30am we were boarding the first ski lift of the day. Much to our collective amusement, my skis, poles, and boots had been rented out under the name "Usual Burns," and to this very moment, I still have no idea why. When I ordered them online, I put "Holly" in the field for first name, and "Burns" in the field for last. But when my confirmation email came, I was just called Usual Burns. In, like, three different places. Had I been to this particular ski resort before? I had not. And yet apparently I was already a regular there. ("Who's renting those skis, John, the red ones?" "Oh, it's just Usual Burns again. She always asks for those.")

And here is something else a little unexpected: turns out I'm not such an awful skiier after all. I guess that's what happens when your boyfriend is an expert snowboarder and your friends have been skiing most of their lives: you don't want to be the pansy who won't tackle the blue run with them, and then whoops, hey, look at that, you're skiing a blue run yourself! One has to get down the mountain somehow, of course, and "down" seems to be the best direction to head in. And then when they tell you "nah, you're fine, you're ready for a black run," you shrug your shoulders and climb onto the ski lift with them. A black run? A steep and scary black run? Why, sure!

Of course, it's a little embarrassing to have them wait at the bottom for you for twenty minutes, reading your lips as you say Hail Marys over every mogul you bounce through, but that's why you make them sign a confidentiality agreement before you leave for the ski trip, isn't it? Thou shalt not tell anyone what an ass I made of myself while whizzing down a mountain with two pieces of fiberglass strapped to my feet. In return, I shalt not tell anyone that you suggested we stop at In N Out Burger twice in 48 hours. (Uh, apart from the Internet, I guess.)

By the way, I thought you'd like to know that when I (jokingly) asked Sean if he loved me more now that I was a better skiier, he said, quite seriously, "yeah, a little bit." Turns out you can buy love, after all, Internet; someone alert the Beatles that they were wrong! All you need is a lift ticket, some skis rented to The Usual Burns, and a healthy dose of humility in case you fall. Oh, and two Double-Doubles for strength.


PS: Any budding novelists out there? Nathan, who is a literary agent, is running a rather exciting contest, for which I (hilariously!) am a co-judge. (Well, I am good at judging people. Mostly because their pants don't match their shoes, but whatever.) (I'm joking, I'd never judge you. And if I did, you could just be all "oh, please, you ate at In N Out Burger twice in 48 hours.")

Anyway, the contest is called The Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge and the aim is to find the best, er, first page of a work, the one that gets people desperate to take your book to the counter at Borders and plunk down their debit card, rather than just waiting until it comes out in the library and flipping through it half-heartedly while they're waiting for their boyfriend to hurry up and choose the DVDs he wants to rent already. The winner gets some things that are really kind of important for people looking to get published, so you should get over there and check it out if you're interested in that sort of thing. But make it snappy: the contest only launched yesterday and there are already---unbelievably---191 249 655 entries. Which means I am going to be staying up awfully late this week. Give me something good to read, okay?

Jan 29, 2008

You're killing me Smalls! Tahoe and In N' Out Burger? Tahoe skiing will spoil you for life. When I moved to Oregon and went skiing up there for the first time my friends were like, where are your goggles & face mask? And I was like, goggles? I ski to get some SUN. And then I went in Austria. Jesus Christ, the baby runs there are like triple black diamonds. It's like laughing in the face of death, only I'm not laughing, I'm peeing in my bibs.

Jan 29, 2008

Skiing is great, although that coffee definitely sets the perfect "We're crazy for doing this but it's going to be so much fun!" tone. Piping hot, delicious coffee. In Japan, they have these funny lukewarm tin cans of coffee that are slightly disconcerting to drink for, while tasty, makes me wonder what toxic ions are leaching inside. But I had one before skiing last week and it was rocket fuel! BTW, sleeping at a farm the night prior also sounds like cozy fun. Was there a fire?

Daily Tragedies
Jan 29, 2008

Having just moved back to the East Coast from Sacramento and lamenting every day that I'm missing one of the best ski seasons in recent memory, I'm just going to pretend that this entire story isn't true. Works out well for you on the In N Out Burger front.

House of Jules
Jan 29, 2008

Since I've only been skiing twice in my life, and both count as near-death-experiences, I'm actually more jealous of the fact that you got to enjoy In N Out Burger twice in 48 hours!
House of Jules

Jan 29, 2008

I've been reading your blog for awhile and am only an occasional commenter, but I felt compelled to comment today because I am started by your friend Nathan. Actually, I had found his blog on my own through Publisher's Marketplace because my fiancé and I are hoping to move to San Francisco soon and so I'm looking for potential employers in the form of literary agencies and publishing houses. And now I see a link to him on your blog because he's a friend of yours and you've gone skiing with him. It makes it feel like such a small world, except that I don't actually know either of you so it's really just a big internet coincidence. But still.

Anne Bradshaw
Jan 29, 2008

What a great blog! Love the olde worlde comment boxes. As for skiing--hats off to you--I'm too scared of breaking some essential bone to risk it.

Jan 29, 2008

Nathan's dad ROCKS. Or even better would be 'The dude rocks!'.

You can trust the (step) mom of a 14 year old. Hope you at least called him 'dude'.

Also, since we blog readers want to be liked by you in a 'high school-esque' way, please let me be the first one to suck up to you today and ask the obvious: why don't YOU write the surprisingly essential first page? It could be about the mysterious identity switch with the Usual.

Jan 29, 2008

I am so jealous that you got to go to In N Out burger - they don't have those in Canada.

And I know that my husband would love me better if I could ski - but alas, I cannot walk and chew gum without hurting myself. I do know that he prefers to have me at home not in the hospital with multiple broken bones which is exactly what would happen to me if I even thought about doing what you did. You totally rock dude!

She Likes Purple
Jan 29, 2008

You've inspired me to share my first snowboarding story with the Internet on a to-come post. It included a few hysterical screams and also me sliding down the last hill on the snowboard (as in, butt on the snowboard, not feet strapped into it). Apparently that's very dangerous and I was reprimanded accordingly. But it was TRULY the best option at the time.

We live in Texas and are so smitten with In & Out Burger, it's usually all we eat when in Calif. It's where we had our rehearsal dinner (we got married in Tahoe). And while our friends fancied it up at the Bellagio buffet in Vegas (dropping $40 a pop), we spent roughly $10 on the best meal of the trip.

Jan 29, 2008

holly, you say stopped at in and out twice in 48 hours as if it's a bad thing....

there is nothing like a double double animal style.

Jan 29, 2008

Holly is a much better skier than she gives herself credit for, and in fact, I would say she is the best Brit I've seen on skis since that crazy British ski jumper Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards in the Olympics way back when. And I'm pretty sure Holly is better than him too.

Jan 29, 2008

I'm sure you ski better than I snowboard. The last time I was on the slopes I had the worst fall imaginable and knocked out a tooth and chipped a few others. Much cosmetic dental surgery later-I know have a decent smile after spending a ton of money for my snowboarding accident. I have yet to get the nerve to get back on the snowboard. I figure as long as you can make it to the bottom without chipping a few teeth, anyone is better than me! HA! HA!

Jan 29, 2008

I'd get up at four to ride my snowboard any day of the winter.

To ski??? Not on your life, two-planker.

Jan 29, 2008

Watch out for that tree -- remember Sonny Bono wiped himself out skiing in South Tahoe. Gorgeous place, isn't it? I don't ski, but give me lots of snow and Irish coffee, and I'm a happy girl.

Camels & Chocolate
Jan 29, 2008

I spit out my water when I read the Usual Burns paragraph. Lucky for you (and my computer), I wasn't drinking coffee at the time.

natalie 42
Jan 29, 2008

listen, you be happy you're in TAHOE on a skiing trip! I don't want to not like you for the whole day! I want nothing more than to be snowboarding in Tahoe right this very second!!!

Have so much fun and drink lots of delicious hot chocolate!

FunnyGal KAT
Jan 29, 2008

HILARIOUS! How in the world did they get "Usual Burns" from "Holly Burns"? Perhaps you gave your name and they said, "Holly? What way do you spell that?" and you said, "The usual." That's the only possible scenario other than perhaps the employees are a bunch of crackwhores who don't know what they're doing (sorry, I couldn't resist bringing back the crackwhores!)

Jan 29, 2008

I would love to eat at In n Out twice in 48 hours. I lived in California my whole life until two years ago when we moved to Hawaii. The thing I miss the most? In n Out. And on our infrequent visits to Cali, we eat it as much as we can to hold us over till our next trip.

Jan 29, 2008

As a native Californian, I believe the proper term is "RAWWWKS!!!!"

Just wanted to set that straight.

Heidi the Hick
Jan 29, 2008

Hi! Nathan sent me over here. Nice place! Your cat story cracked me cat is too old to be stressed anymore. About anything.

You're pretty brave with the skiing. I've never done it. I'm so much better getting around on four hooves than two strips of fibreglass. I think skiiers are nuts, but I've been told people who voluntarily ride horses are nuts, so what do I know?

Just that next time you should insist on being called Unusual Burns or Extraordinary Burns.

Jan 29, 2008

Just stopped by from Nathan's SEFPC. I've played in his other contests, but this one seems a little harsh. Are you sure he doesn't have a death wish? And are you sure about what you signed up for? :) I just wanted to thank you for helping out, even though I'm not entering this time!


The mystery is solved. Everyone was wondering why you'd be insane enough to help Nathan read 300+ first pages.

You went over a mogul too fast and ended up in a tree, right? Nathan saved your life and in a fit of gratitude, you promised to help him with his kooky venture. That's gotta be it.

Here in Ontario, the taxi drivers weren't allowed to say 'beer store' over the radio, so they just called it the 'In 'n Out'.

Jan 29, 2008

Usual Burns? I'm still laughing. Really, really hard.

Jan 29, 2008

I am so glad Nathan put you on my radar! I sent many people to read your January 25 post. My neighbor, who has five cats, e-mailed me to ask if I could hear her laughing from my house.

Thanks for helping Nathan!

Jan 30, 2008

I like your bonfire. The colors are pretty.
I went skiing once. You have to pay money for that?
Anyway, how come you agreed to help Nathan?
Don't worry, I am sure there is medication for that.
Well, good luck. I'll hang out and read here a little, if you don't mind. Some of Nathan's entries made me dizzy.

Thank you!

Jan 30, 2008

I sooooo suck ass at snow skiing. I went once and my ski got caught in my step-dad's ski coming off the lift and face down I went into the snow right off the chair. I had to lay there while people jumped off over my head until they could get me out of there.

I have never been since.

Jan 30, 2008

I REALLY REALLY hope M. doesn't agree with Sean, re: Expert Skiing = Extra Love for Girlfriend. Because the last time we went skiing? He had to HIKE BACK UP AND FETCH ME. He essentially had to hold my (bloody from clutching frantically at the icy mountain while hurtling down it) hand and guide me through the (evil evil) trees. It was humiliating.

But, hooray! Congratulations on your skiing mastery! Now go find the next Nicole Krauss.

Jan 30, 2008

Skiiing and I don't mix. I too remember going on a ski retreat with my sister, and 3 or 4 other girls and it was sheer terror and mortification Holly. I braved it and put on the stupid ski sticks on my feet because my girls were all doing it. So I went and I(for the first time in my life mind you), did the splits. The pegs or whatever you call them did nothing to brace me. Suffice to say I've never gone again. Kudos to you for giving it another go. As you Brits say, I still find the thing a bit too doggy for me.

Jan 30, 2008

In and Out Burger....drooling!!!

Jan 30, 2008

Hi, I'm over here from Nathan's blog. Your ski story is hysterical. Based on a few of the other comments, I'm now feeling compelled to go look for that cat post...

Jan 30, 2008

Found you through a link on Desperate Working Momma's.

Funny Story.

Jan 31, 2008

Love the ski story. I only attempted to ski once at Brian Head in Utah. And it is much safer for those on the slopes for me to remain ski-less. I never even graduated from the bunny slope. Sounds like it was a fun trip. The "In and Out Burger" included. Sometimes you need a bit of grease.

Oh, and thanks for helping Nathan out in the contest. I believe you guys are going to be very busy. 650 entries-oh my! I'm down towards the bottom. Better late than never.

Thanks again,

Jan 31, 2008

The contest sounds fun but it looks like it's already over. So are you going to get into the habit of reading first pages, or run the contest again? I'd love to get you to read mine...

Jan 31, 2008

Hi Holly,

Just popping by from Nathan's to admire

a) your skiing ability
b) your willingness to read 400+ first pages

You are brave!