A couple of weeks ago I went to buy some new skates. My old ones currently sit in a coworker’s garage outside of Boston. I was playing with the company hockey team1 when I was there every week, and I didn’t have the foresight to bring my stuff home before Covid put an abrupt end to my travels.
Anyway, I wanted to do some skating on the outdoor rink the park district stands up at the park around the corner. Outdoor ice skating is one of the precious few things I find enjoyable about winter. So partly because asking my friend to ship my bag to me would be an expensive, stinky pain in the ass, and partly because the skates within it are almost 30 years old, I decided to get some new ones.
I didn’t care for the attitude of the mulleted hockey kid who sold them to me. He wasn’t bothering to hide rolling his eyes at the ignorant, decrepit old man before him who didn’t want to buy the $850 skates he was pushing. My frustration mounted in linear proportion to his obvious disdain for me, and my sense of “I don’t need this shit” was growing by the minute. I could buy these skates from someone who would at least pretend to care, or even online. But just as I was looking at my shoes, ready to grab them and put them back on, a calming, cooling thought came over me like water. “It’s the last time.” This was the last time I was ever going to buy a pair of hockey skates. In another fifteen minutes I’d walk out of there and never see that punk-ass Kaner wannabe again. I could feel my blood pressure drop and the hot flush drain from my cheeks. We finished the fitting, I got them sharpened, I paid, I left.
The last time. It’s not that I expect to die soon, though of course that’s certainly possible, as it is for any of us. It’s more that I just did the math. I’m 54. I don’t know when I’ll get back to Boston to play with the work team, and it’s very unlikely I’ll join a team here, or go out and rat much. How much longer will I be viable on skates at all? How many times will I use them? By any reasonable measure, these skates, even the midline ones that cost a lot less than $850, will literally last me a lifetime, even using the most optimistic actuarials.
The lasts. I’m not preoccupied with my death, at least not more than anyone else, I don’t think. With all due prefacing statements about how I don’t mean to tempt the universe by even thinking out loud about this: just looking at the numbers, I’ve probably got 25-ish years left, with a fairly wide distribution of possible outcomes on either side that median. Consider things with expected life spans less than or near my own. How many more cars will I own in that period? Dogs? Phones? Guitars? And what will the last one in the line be like? Further along that line of thought, what are the things I’ve bought for the last time already, besides hockey skates? Will I ever need another hardcover textbook? A second pair of cowboy boots? A new adze?
There are further extensions of this line of thought which are far darker. What have I already done or experienced for the last time? Will I ever visit that place again? What about people…who have I seen for the last time? I try not to jump into that well, especially during the winter months. Of a global pandemic. Where you’re physically isolated from just about everyone. And most things you love to do.
It’s been a hard season, friends. A really hard season.
I did get out to skate a little before it got sloppy and melty this week. (I wonder if it was for the last time this season.) I’m glad for it. The sting of the cold air in your throat, and the numbness in your toes, will definitely remind you you’re alive, here, now, and that’s where your focus should be. It hurts, and it’s OK. I’m OK.
they have those around Boston, kind of like we have company softball teams here….wild… ↩︎