There is the rare ski bum who made good, and somehow managed to purchase a home in one of the West’s best resort areas. If you’re lucky enough to lease a place from one of these humble hard-workers, you have reasonable rent and a landlord who understands the struggle of making ski town dreams work.
If not, you’re likely paying an outrageous fee to a reptile-in-disguise on the first of each month, and it’s seriously cutting into your PBR and new binding budget.
The man who won’t pay for a plumber to come take care of the faucet that spews brown water, and threatens legal action if your rent is a day late— he’s a lizard.
Not your run-of-the-mill reptile though. You’re lining the pockets of a scaly harbinger of gentrification.
Each morning, as your friends shovel out the stairs at the base of the gondola, and you desperately try to get your ’96 Subaru to start in subzero temps, he’s curled up in a bed of wood shavings beneath a heat lamp.
Two hours after your work day has started, he’ll rise. Lazily, he strides through the four-story home purchased with help from a trust fund. In the kitchen, he retrieves a handful of live mice and sits before the bay windows overlooking Peak Six. The slithering slumlord devours the squirming rodents, basking in the warmth of central heating and money he made by simply being born.
But just as your day began hours earlier, his must too. He returns to the master bedroom, zipping on a Caucasian skin-suit, slipping his favorite Canada Goose jacket over his boney shoulders, and shining the conflict-diamond pinky-ring his father gifted him at prep school graduation.
His forefathers have accomplished a lot— the Salem Witch Trials, modern banking practices, Reagan’s War on Drugs, Enron, Lehman Brothers, and the disenfranchisement of countless peoples. The mountains of the American West are where he’s decided to write his chapter of the family legacy.
Into the frigid high-elevation air he steps, ready to wield inherited affluence as his weapon.
The cold-blooded creep instructs his chauffeur to drive past each home and apartment he owns, so as to inspect the properties. For each trash can left out, for every vehicle parked out of place, he’ll fire off a text to tenants, threatening financial penalties and fees on top of rent if municipal code is not adhered to.
Downtown, he tells the driver to park near city hall so he can continue on foot. As a member of the town council and zoning board, he wants to see that everything on Main Street is in order as well.
He glares at the South Americans here on J-1 Visas, as they sprinkle salt in front of the gelato shop, but holds his tongue. Without such low wage workers, local power brokers couldn’t keep the lights on in their guest houses. He knows sacrifices must be made. Yet, still, their presence rankles him.
Around the next corner, a tickle of joy shoots up his spine, as he’s greeted by the sight of a Tacoma with rusted out side panels being winched onto a municipal tow truck. Little by little, the riff-raff will be cleared out of this sleepy mountain town, and the local culture crushed beneath his boot heel.
More than anything, he wants to bulldoze the mom-and-pop shops to make way for gastropubs; to buy out the dive bars and convert them into wineries. Break the backs of those that give the town it’s character, and the peasants will flee, making room for Dallas transplants with thick wallets and the latest neon Helly Hansen bibs.
Towards the back end of Main Street is a wellness spa. He knows, because he helped acquire the permits necessary to push out the owners of the thrift shop that used to occupy the space.
An intoxicating masseuse works there. She’s got light fingers that dance across her clients’ backs, and a voice that’s melodic, even to his reptilian ears. Her pheromones, the bohemian bracelets and the Gemini tattoo on her wrist make this bug-eater hungry for human flesh. She came here from Florida, and is one of the few commoners he doesn’t mind (because he wants to sleep with her).
In the afternoon, he drops in. She sits behind the reception desk uncomfortably, hoping an actual paying customer will appear and give her an escape. He drums his pinky ring against the desk and describes the hot tub he’s having installed, while twirling the keys to his Tesla, hoping to lure her in.
But a sore ski patroller shows up and the courtship is brought to a halt. She breathes a sigh of relief, excuses herself, and he bites his forked tongue in frustration. The lizard glances at the patrollers name tag and makes a mental note to email his supervisors about his poorly maintained facial hair.
It’s getting late now though, and there’s a town council meeting to attend.
Before the townsfolk, he prattles on about his commitment to protecting the natural wonders of the area, and ensuring that the local charm never fades. When someone suggests that more affordable housing is needed, he cries “HEAR, HEAR!” along with the crowd. He’s a sharp lizard, and this is a carefully crafted ruse the chameleon is pulling in order to conceal his true intentions. Perception is everything.
The common rabble must be banished. His hope is that those of us in duct tape-patched jackets will be cast into eternal hellfire. In our place, a thousand influencers wearing metallic onesies and Bluetooth-equipped goggles will materialize.
More paid parking.
More brunch spots with French names and James Beard Award-winning chefs.
When the meeting is adjourned, and enough locals have shaken his clammy hand and thanked him for “really caring”, he slinks off to city hall’s interior offices. There, behind closed doors, he’s signing over the town’s plow contracts to his second cousin.
Before the ink has dried, they’re toasting with Pappy Van Winkle (that’s $175 an ounce).
Nibbling on the adrenal glands of children trafficked from far off lands, the cousins smile and wonder what their great-grand-uncle would think of where the family business has gone since the sweatshop and plantation management days.
As night falls, he bids his dear cousin adieu. There will be a chance for more nepotism tomorrow. It’s early March and the kids from southern universities are in town on break.
Slinking into the closest party bar, he glances about and winces at the Dua Lipa song blaring through the sound system. One day he’ll turn this dump into a contemporary bistro with a live mandolin player, and cocktails that cost more than your hourly wage. For now, it is where the predator seeks his prey.
In the corner, he spies a group of sorority sisters in chunky white sneakers practicing Tik Tok dances. Their leader reminds him of a girl he saw at the party on that financier’s island years ago. She was with an ex-president. What was the host’s name again? Jim? Jeff? Something like that.
Approaching with a tray of Grey Goose and sodas, he tells them he’s got equity in the bar, and not to worry, they’ll probably learn what that word means next semester.
He does his best impression of a chill human being.
“Ha, ha! Hee, hee!”
They nod and glance around wide-eyed, grateful for the free drinks, but wondering if the cocktails are worth a forced conversation with this pale-skinned ghoul. The ladies are quiet. He tries to break the ice, explaining that the last group of college girls to drink with him got a discount on his Palm Springs AirBnB for Coachella. They giggle nervously. He picks up on their hesitation, and decides that a round of shots is necessary as well.
Moments later, touting six lemon drops, he finds that the girls are now being courted by a semi-pro skier and his posse of dreadlocked pals. Cursing them, he slips and the tray clatters to the floor.
“Do you know who I am?!” he protests, as the bouncer carries him outside into the cold.
Back in the multi-million-dollar mountaintop home, he drops the Canada Goose Jacket to the floor and puts on a Tom Waits record.
From a glass tank, he retrieves a handful of live crickets and mealworms, gobbling them up greedily; a midnight snack to ease the pain of rejection.
His confidence is shaken, but not gone. You must remember from whence you came, he tells himself, and stalks off to the walk-in closet.
He slips on his grandfather’s old Gestapo uniform and models it in front of the mirror.
The phone goes off, just as he flicks on the heat lamp and begins to zip off his human skin. Texts pour in from tenants finishing their bartending and waitressing shifts. They promise to pick up the trash and beg for more time to pay last month’s rent. He grins a toothy, evil grin.
There was no college girl or masseuse in his den, but he did spend most of the day doing what he loves most— trying to kill snow rat dreams. And he didn’t even have to slip on ski boots or hit the mountain to do so.
He’s not the only one. The lizard people’s collective grip is strong. But it’s not unbreakable.
Perhaps a revolution is in order. Power is meant to change hands from time to time.
With calloused hands and an indomitable will, take back what’s yours from the cold-blooded.
Gather your friends. Call the lifties, the groomers, the terrain park crew, and the snowmakers too. Be the rebels who build a new republic— by the ski bums, for the ski bums.
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