Culture

The Agony and Ecstasy of Wiping Out

A Reluctant Celebration of Winter's Cruelest Interruption

By Sam Eichner ·
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Photo: LindaMarieB/Getty Images

I wiped the fuck out yesterday, on a thin slice of slick ice, outside of my apartment.

It was 8:30am. The morning was warmer than it had been in the past week—a balmy 33 degrees or so. I had my backpack on, and my coat zipped up, and my hat shoved haphazadly over my hair, and my scarf tied tight, and a full garbage bag in my hand, which I dropped somewhere on the way up or down. I recall looking up to see a girl strolling by as I walked down the front steps of my building. When I found myself on my ass, the skins of last night’s edamame littered across the ground, she stopped in her tracks and, with a concerned smile, asked me if I was alright.

This isn’t the first time I’ve wiped out on ice, obviously, but it is the first time I’ve wiped out on ice in quite a long time. Due to my travels in 2016-17, I haven’t experienced anything close to resembling a Chicago winter in over a year and a half. You could say I’ve returned to this uncontrollable endeavor with a fresh set of eyes. My own reaction to wiping out, after all this time, surprised me: I was laughing, gleeful, shamelessly giddy, slap-happy in a “fuck my life” kind of way.

There is a particular agony to wiping out, certainly, but there is an ecstasy, too. Somewhere between slipping and landing you bump into a split-second epiphany that, no matter what you do, you’re going down; from that epiphany comes a small sense of recognition of the joke that is our fragile existence, an “ugh, classic this” shrug of the mind; and peeking out from behind that recognition is a joyous ontological acceptance: that we have way less control over anything than we think we do.

Wiping out can feel like winter reminding us that nothing we do matters—a brief nihilistic interruption as we go about doing the work necessary to give our lives meaning. This may sound bleak. But it’s also cathartic. Your guard is never down further than when you’ve fallen on your ass. The pretense of personal agency you maintain throughout the day gives way to a kind of liberation. For one blissful moment, as you go airborne, you’ve relinquished control of your self to greater forces—of nature, of gravity, of fate.

Such a sensation is compounded by the fact that, when we wipe out, there always seems to be a person watching (because of course there fucking is). Sometimes, you’re that person watching; other times, you’re the one wiping out. When you’re the latter, the universal experience of the former contributes to an almost out-of-body experience: you can feel as if you’re watching yourself wipe out from the perspective of the person actually watching you wipe out. And since you know what they must be thinking—a variation on “oh, poor guy”—the best reaction, unless you end up really hurting yourself, is to laugh at your own pitiful plight. To turn an anguished “fuck this” into a revelatory “fuck it.” 

Sam Eichner likes literature, reality television and his twin cats equally. He has consistently been told he needs a shave since he started growing facial hair.

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