Maggie Valley is a resort town in the mountains of North Carolina. It is distinguished by one dance hall, seasonally shuttered (the Stompin’ Ground), one main drag, Soco Road, upon which the Stompin Ground is strategically located, numerous rental cabins, four or five hotels including the Four Seasons, also on Soco Road, one now defunct amusement park (Ghost Town), which is for sale, according to the billboard on the property formerly occupied by the enterprise, and a ski resort, the Cataloochee, with a beginners, an intermediate, and a best slope – the best slope being accessed by a ski lift going up (the eye estimates) maybe two thousand and a half feet. It was open Friday, Saturday and Sunday last week. Then it was closing for the season. The employees there say that the busier season, in Maggie Valley, is the summer, anyway.
I headed for Maggie Valley with my brother last Thursday. My other brother had already rented a cabin (with, as he was eager to point out on the phone, a porch jacuzzi), and the aim was to ski Friday and hike Saturday. The resort was on the verge of packing it in, but it looked like there had been snow and sleet in the mountains, so we were figuring that the pack wouldn’t be all artificial.
Since we were going to be staying in a cabin, we packed a few things into my brother’s car, including a bag of kindling and logs – for the fireplace. Then we set out, ate at a steak place, and made the drive from Atlanta in three and a half hours. During two and a half of those hours, I was feeling a bit of pain in my chest. I decided it was heart burn, although to tell you the truth, I have never quite understood the nature of heart burn, that evocative and mysterious term stamped into my brain from an early age by the very successful tv ad campaigns mounted by various patent medicine companies who, from the days of radio to the days of cable, have underwritten so much of the mental referential undergrowth for those raised during that period when tv consisted of the big three and a few public stations. So, we approach Maggie Valley at around ten at night. We are both looking for signs of snow, but it is, of course, dark. We find the cabin, and my other brother in deep repose mode in the Jacuzzi, a snifter of rum in his hand. We unpack, watch a movie (Apollo 13) and I notice that this heart burn is spreading and giving me a frightening empathy with the astronauts encaged in their apparently doomed lunar lander module. I am lying there, understanding the close bond between me and my heart. And, this night, I am not liking it. Still, it is merely severe heart burn. We all agree to go to sleep, what with the big day ahead of us.
At around three, I am filled with intimations of my mortality – intimations in spades that have spread into my shoulder and down my side. A small child’s plastic figurine – an elephant, a giraffe – is being stuffed, by invisible fingers, into one of my aorta. It is not very much fun. So I drag myself up the cabin’s hallway to one of my brother’s door, knock, and when he drags himself out of bed, I explain that I might be dead tomorrow morning. This alarms him. Luckily, my brother has seen enough medical shows on tv to prescribe for these situations: take two aspirins and call him in the morning.
I do. In the morning, I do feel better. However, whenever I laugh, my chest hurts. I discovered a fact about myself: I laugh quite a bit. I resolve to stop laughing so much in the future. I say that I think I can go with them to the Cataloochee, but I am not sure that I can ski. Well, we go on up there, and – whether it is the thinner air or some random anxiety I harbor that, if I do have to go to the hospital, I will never for the rest of my life be able to pay off the resulting medical bill – having no insurance, no assets, and a mere thousand bucks in the bank – my heart starts doing the business with the small plastic animal figurines again. So my brothers pursuade me to go to the medical tech people at the resort. One of them, a trim, handsome man, blue eyes, perfect hair, obviously once a ski jockey and now a med tech jockey who wants to get into medical management, takes my pulse, takes my blood pressure, and advises me to go to the urgent care clinic. He also gives me the helpful information that men in their forties have a greater risk of dying from heart attack then men in their fifties and sixties. He explains this factoid, but I am not, unfortunately, in reportorial mode. Therefore, I can't tell you the cause of the differential. So off I go, leaving one brother behind to ski, and with my unfortunate other brother in tow. We wait for a long time at the clinic, which is like a meeting place for every citizen of Maggie Valley that has a sneeze or cough, reviving, to my mind, that old medical term, miasma. And then I wait in a cubicle and get examined by an echelon of the medically trained, from the woman who takes my pulse up to the chief doctor.
I thought I’d get this down. I’m going to use that pain for some character or another.