I once had the unnerving experience of meeting, at a cocktail party in an Alpine skiing resort, a real, living and breathing chairlift dingbat. To say I was flabbergasted is an understatement. Like most people, I believed that the Alpine chairlift dingbat was a figure of myth, a boogie man of whom tales were told to frighten the tinies. But no. Here he was, leaning against a mantelpiece, nursing a glass of sfizziggio, telling amusing anecdotes to a rapt audience.
I turned to my companion and hissed, “You cannot seriously expect me to believe that this charming and insouciant fellow is a chairlift dingbat?”
My companion, who had steered me through the crowds to this corner of the room purposely to introduce me to the chairlift dingbat, put her finger to her lips.
“Hush,” she said, “Just wait and see.”
We waited for a break in the conversation and, when it came, my companion, with her effortless social skills, did as she had promised, drew the chairlift dingbat away from the mantelpiece, and introduced us. We talked for over an hour that evening, and parted, very late, having arranged to meet for het ontbijt in a spectacular Flemish cafe in the foothills of an important Alp the next morning. He failed to appear. When I returned to my hotel, all waffled up, I bumped into my companion in the lobby.
“No show,” I complained, “And I still don’t believe he is a chairlift dingbat. We talked for an hour at the cocktail party last night, and he was nothing if not sophisticated and amusing and insouciant. He betrayed no sign of being what you persist in claiming he is.”
“Did you ask him outright?” asked my companion.
“Of course not!” I protested, “It would be an unforgiveable social gaffe to ask such a question at a sophisticated cocktail party.”
“That is true,” she conceded, “And come to think of it, he is unlikely to have given an honest answer. Chairlift dingbats are careful to protect their anonymity when not actually lolling in the corner of a chairlift.”
“Meaning…?” I asked.
“Meaning that they carefully cultivate the demeanour of a chairlift dingbat but are adept at sloughing it off the moment they step out of the chairlift on to terra firma,” she said.
I had no idea what she was talking about, and I was too stodged with waffles to care.
“I am going to lie down in the dark,” I said.
As I lay in the dark, I thought about all I knew – or thought I knew – of chairlift dingbats. That they lurked, unseen, in the corners of chairlifts, waiting to accost the unsuspecting chairlift passenger on his ride to or from the top of an Alpine peak. That they had the appearance of singularly unappealing Swiss yokels and gave off an overpowering whiff of goat. That the babbling to which they subjected their victim was largely unintelligible. That within the confines of the chairlift, creaking on its cables, suspended over the treacherous snow-covered mountain slopes, to be trapped with a chairlift dingbat was a fate too horrible to imagine. That so repugnant was the mere presence of the chairlift dingbat that many a victim felt compelled to throw open the door of the chairlift and hurl themselves to certain death on the treacherous snow-covered mountain slopes below. That when the Alpine politti came to investigate the suicide, there was never a trace to be found of the chairlift dingbat, save for vestigial traces of goaty whiff, soon dispersed in the sparkling Alpine chill.
I sat up in the dark of my hotel room and poured myself a stiffener from the bottle of vapido ague on the bedside table. It was simply incomprehensible that the sophisticated chap who had amused me with anecdotes at a sophisticated cocktail party the night before could possibly be a chairlift dingbat. Dammit, surely such maddening creatures did not even exist, were but the invention of Alpine mythmakers and storytellers. Obviously the cocktail party guest and my companion were in cahoots, playing a trick on me, even now were probably sat together in the spectacular Flemish cafe laughing their heads off at my expense. I took another swig, put on my Christopher Plummer-style Tyrolean jacket, and headed out into the streets of the skiing resort. The air was cold and clear and crisp.
I had sat in the spectacular Flemish cafe a couple of hours ago. Now it was boarded up, and there was a sign in the window. “We have moved”, it said, in several different languages, in many of which I was fluent. I rummaged in my Tyrolean jacket pocket for my gazetteer, to ascertain the location of the new address. The cafe had moved to the summit of the important Alp at the foot of which lay the resort. It was now accessible only by chairlift.
I made my way to the chairlift station, and towards the worst horror of all.