Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ice Hockey Again and Again



Sweaty and out of sorts, she asked no one in particular, "How'd I play?'" Her mother, her sister, a younger teammate and the older dad of the teammate all paused. It was the kind of pause you might experience when you ask your girlfriend, who has cold feet, to move in with you. The pause oddly says it all. Pauses in the main are not good things. Noodle knew she didn't have a good game, she knew deep down in her heart, but she was looking for some encouragement. And then they began to move their lips...

Sister, "Dad's in the car, he's pissed."
Older dad of teammate, "You played a great game, yeah, you really looked good."
Mom, "Dad thinks you weren't aggressive enough."
The teammate said nothing. She had her own demons because she never thinks she plays well.

It was a hot, seasonable summer day. It was a day when it was good to be in a hockey rink. Generally, hockey rinks are inhospitable. For the most part they are cold, damp and smelly. The smell is unique, a combination of malodorous hockey equipment, cheesy skate stink, sweat and mold. Rinks are always water soaked. There must be some fungi, who love the cold damp environs. Noodle and Gaby's Green team had just lost to the Purple team in an inelegant display of skating, stick handling and shooting. Too bad, there were at least 15 college hockey coaches scouting for some phenom to make themselves look smart.

These camp girls were hoping to catch on with a college hockey team. In a perverse way, the whole camp arrangement reminded Carl Tedesco of the Mustang Ranch. He went there once when he was visiting Reno on business. All of the prostitutes strutted their stuff when he walked in, hoping he would pick them. Carl, who is 70, is an avid girl's hockey follower. He has been going to games, camps and practices for 30 years, ever since his Nellie, Class of '80, played for the Taft School. Nellie and Carl no longer talk.

Being a high schooler could be described as the best of times and the worst of times. Carl always thought high schools should be built in a pyramidal shape. By the time the students spend their four years in the pyramid, only a small percentage will reach the top. The disappointment, the self deprecation, the ego crush and the demoralization of all the students, who fall off the pyramid, are under appreciated. Carl had been watching the 150 hockey athletes for the last 3 days and he knows there are only 7 or so legitimate Division 1 candidates. Life can be tough.

As Carl passed Noodle and her group, he couldn't help observe the minidrama. He was a keen observer, blessed with good vision and good ears, but cursed with a lousy gallbladder. Today, before the Green-Purple game, he saw a large player sitting on a rink bench, a D, no doubt. She was up against the wall, literally. Tears ran down her cheeks. A trainer was splinting her right wrist. An older woman was sitting next to the fallen gladiator. Carl surmised it was the hockey player's mother. She told Midget to suck it up. Midget, now there's a name that fits! Mom implored, "Tomorrow's game will be huge". Carl thought that the wrist might be broken. It was.

The old man headed for the corner glass. In his opinion, that is the best place to see the action. The Babson rink has a few steps by the corner spot and two people were standing on them, so that their vision line was higher than his. The couple looked alike, as if they were married too long. The man was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with "Give Blood, Play Hockey". Around his neck hung a small, but expensive Hitachi video recorder. His squeeze was wearing a denim jacket from the Gap with a belly button baring white top. The ornament dangling into her umbilical hole was a set of crossed hockey sticks with the number "10" superimposed on the stick shafts. From her neck, a digital Nikon SLR split her pillows. The telephoto lens could have double duty at the Mustang Ranch. The proud couple was putting together a video for #10. Many people do videos so they can send them to the coaches and scouts, who couldn't see their player any other way.

One of the player's on the Purple team looked like Nellie did 30 years ago. Nellie was 5-5 and quick as a cat. She shot left. Left is always more classy than right and indeed Nellie was one classy player. Carl did all the crazy stuff he saw every time he went to a rink. In fact, the old 8mm movie camera he used to cart around and film Nellie was still in his attic. Sometimes, late at night, Carl will set up the screen and run the film.

A few years after Nellie graduated from Taft, when she was student at Tufts, Carl took off. He left Nellie's mother, Sybil. Left her like a man, who is drinking and walking down the street, leaves an empty beer bottle on the curb. He was 44 and he wanted to have a little fun. He beat feet for Key West. Key West is also known as the Conch Republic. The city tried to secede from the Union and set up its own government. It is that kind of place. Carl blended into the local fauna for eleven years. He holed up with a Cuban woman with a past for a few years. So, Carl and Soledad, two people with histories, passed some time and had some fun in Key West, Florida. Soledad slipped out one night and went back to Cuba. Carl never understood why anyone would go back to Cuba.

When Carl was 55 he returned to Natick. Sybil, as crazy nuts for Carl as a love struck teenager, took him back. Nellie, however, did not. She told Carl, "You're dead to me." And she meant it. Carl did tried to schmooze Nellie, but Nellie isn't Sybil. The hole in Carl's heart and the gap in his soul cannot be repaired. Maybe that's why he hangs around hockey rinks. Maybe when he sees a girl, who reminds him of his Nellie, a little bit of that hole and a little bit of that gap get filled in. Who knows?

As Carl climbs into his two door Jeep Cherokee, he feels that familiar right upper quadrant pain. It radiates to his right upper back. He knows the nausea is coming. Vomiting often follows the nausea. A cheesesteak is not a pretty sight in reverse. Carl knows better than to eat fatty, greasy food, but sometimes he is weak. He pulls out of the parking lot, the nausea passes, he stops sweating. The gall bladder attack has passed. As he drives down Route 3 West towards Natick, he decides that tonight he is going to watch Nellie again. And again. Again...

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