Knowing what it's like

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Now I know how Frankenstein's monster felt. Strapped by steel bands to that cruel table. Awakening to the most monstrous vision of life in an unwieldy, unfamiliar body. Trying to walk in those ridiculous shoes. Being laughed at by the village children.

No wonder he turned mean.

Anyone who thinks they could have done better, should follow the old Indian proverb not to criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. . . or, in this case, his boots. And fortunately, for those of you who don't happen to have a pair of Frankenstein boots handy in the hall closet, there is a way to experience all of the humiliation, pain, and sartorial illogic that the monster endured.

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You can go skiing.

You will get your first hint of how the poor fellow felt, once you have crammed your unsuspecting feet into the remarkably unaccomodating ski-boots handed to you, Army-style, in a sweaty ski-lodge locker- room that offers all the sylvan solitude of Macy's on the day before Christmas.

The boots were no doubt, designed on the model of the famed "Boot" made so popular by the Spanish Inquisition.

Once you have hobbled to the counter where one is given two ridiculously long and unwieldy, spear-like objects known as skis, and emerged blinking into the unaccustomed sunlight (it takes an hour to inch your way through the thronged, dungeon-like chambers below), you will have gained a little more insight into his discomfort.

But it is not until you have slipped and stumbled up the sharply pitched, icy cement path leading to the slopes, and endured the barely suppressed laughter of nimble-footed children who walk the same path as though they were climbing the carpeted stairs leading to their trundle beds . . . not until terrified novice skiers scatter before you in panic as you come careening down the beginner's slope towards them . . . that you can truly say you have walked in the monster's moccasins.

I knew none of this when I received my first invitation to ski, a kind offer to join something called The Equitable Family Ski Challenge. (How appropriate that last word seems in retrospect!) Even though I had never assayed the challenges of the slopes, I recollected, somewhat immodestly, that I had a certain undeniable agility and lightness of tread that would surely stand me in good stead as I coursed through the atmosphere, barely disturbing the light powdery snow, amazing seasoned skiers and amateurs alike, and giving my impressionable son an opportunity to send up cheers for his dad.

I have neglected to say that my son was with me. (As things turned out, there were ample opportunities for him to send up cheers: Bronx cheers . . . but more on these later.)

Having endured the process of suiting up for this cruel sport, he and I were artlessly navigating the merest hint of a hill leading to something called the "Bunny Slope" -- which I gathered was the kindergarten of the skiing school where instruction was to be imparted -- when I realized that, despite our earnest, repeated efforts to mount this gentle rise, our location had not changed. We were making as much progress as a man in roller skates walking up a down escalator.

I was about to recommend that we forget instructions and retire to the ski lodge, where we could sensibly throw our skis and boots onto the roaring fire, considerately provided by the management, and plot our escape from this region of torment, when a passing ski instructor took pity on us and showed us how to walk up a hill in skis.

This is done, she explained, by keeping your skis perpendicular to the bottom of the hill and walking sideways while bending your knees in the direction of the slope. As I endeavoured to follow her instructions, my legs telegraphed urgent warnings to me that I was violating some fundamental laws of nature. "Man was not meant to walk this way!!!" they screamed. But, heedless of their warnings, I made my way up the slope to join my skiing class, as my son went off to his.

Once I had joined my group and begun the lessons, my sense of outrage and frustration gave way to deep gratitude that the people who build ski lodges have the common decency to locate them in remote areas where the likelihood of being humiliated in front of a neighbor or acquaintance is radically reduced. There is, after all, some comfort in knowing that these are only anonymous strangers watching dispassionately as you try for the 80th time to execute the simplest maneuver, only to find yourself once again lying in a tangled heap, struggling artlessly to your feet, and spending inordinate amounts of time studying the fine print on the boots of your ski instructor.

After an hour of this fruitless exercise, I decided to heed the subtle hints of said instructor, and went off to practice chewing gum under a tree while watching other novices inflict pointless injuries on themselves in the name of sport.

It was here that I began to think of Frankenstein and his mother for the first time, although my experiences during the past few hours should have brought this to mind much earlier. Standing there, already feeling the reproaches of abused muscles stirring beneath the numbing cold of my extremities , I was reminded of what the monster had said when he took his first steps and realized what the mad doctor had gotten him into. His exact words came flashing into my mind with renewed conviction and undertanding:

He said, "Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh!"

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