Archives for posts with tag: essay

1950s

The framing for the hockey rink would start as early as mid-October. The stakes to support the boards had to be in the ground before it froze over. The boards would be up by mid-November, usually after first snow.
Once the ground was frozen and a hard cold had set in the rink could be flooded. The janitors from our public school would run a thick black hose out from the school and run hot water to lay down the first flood for the rink. The first flood led to a 24 hour extravaganza of ice forming, more flooding, repeat and repeat while we watched in anticipation before going home for dinner.
Sometimes, we would return afterwards, the night cold and black, sometimes snowing, to watch the men flood the rinks one more time, never questioning who was more mesmerized. The nascent pleasure rink surrounded by heaps of snow, the hockey rink with its lights up, ready to be turned on.
School days, everyone skated at recess. Lessons would stop early so skates could be put on. Everyone looked forward to the pleasure rink. No one was supposed to play tag, so recess was a madhouse of tag, played by girls and boys. Girls played tag with girls, boys with boys, and boys and girls played tag with each other. All on the same rink at the same time. It was the essence of anarchy. The thrill of being chased by a mad group of 6, 7, 8 year old girls, providing a sudden sense that everything is so much better, so much wilder with girls.
Of course, after school, everything changed. Mothers or fathers would arrive and skate. Tag was out; parents had no problems shouting, “Little boys! Stop playing Tag!”
It wasn’t really tag. Wrestling on skates would be a better description. Around and around we would go, grab hats, throw them into the snow to start things off. Chase, grab, all while skating as fast as possible. The best was when you got hold of the sleeve of a coat that had not been done up. If you timed it just right, you could spin your opponent so his arm wrenched out of one sleeve of his coat. Now, you could use that extra length of coat to spin and whip him around until he fell over, or went flying into one of the snow banks surrounding the rink.
Sometimes my grandfather would come to skate. My mother and he had ice-danced together when she was younger. She told me they would appear in civic ice-skating shows up North when my grandfather was a forest ranger, and he would be stationed in towns like Pembroke and Kapuskasing.
I had never seen black figure skates before. I asked my grandfather what was wrong with his skates. He laughed and said “Not everyone plays hockey.” He would step onto the ice with my mother and skate in time, arms wrapped around each other’s waists, feet lifting in tandem. People would stop to admire them. The two of them did very little dancing, sometimes a quick twirl, or my grandfather would turn and skate backwards in time with my mother (as fast and as well as the hockey players I wished I could be). People would watch them — those who knew me would say to me “Your grandfather is a wonderful skater.”
They never mentioned my mother who was beautiful, a wonderful skater and had a movie star smile. But my grandfather would wear a black suit, dress shirt and tie, black Homburg, grey dress gloves, not a snow jacket and toque, when he skated with my Mom. He drew all eyes as he strode into each step with her, to emphasize the line, the speed (he was a tall and an elegant man), always matching my Mom, who smiled effortlessly.
Hockey was what it was all about. I remember racing through my dinner so I could go back to the rink to play. Running up the hill in snow boots, hockey stick over my shoulder with my skates slung on it. Impatiently putting my cold skates on, stamping my feet to get them warm, taking a few turns around the pleasure rink getting the leather supple, sitting back down and tightening the laces until the skates were so tight it felt like no blood could possibly get to my feet. Then stepping onto the hockey rink, smacking my stick on the ice, indicating I’m there to play.
There was a limit to how many people could be on the hockey rink. Ten a side was not unheard of, but everyone agreed it tended to slow the game down. Further, the rink was barely regulation — it was about three–quarter sized. Iit was perfect for a game of three on three, or four on four. We played shinny – no raising the puck, no checking (bumping and jostling are OK — that’s just part of the game). No one wore helmets — a few had hockey gloves. All you really needed was skates and a stick.
The start of the game was always the same. Everyone would skate to centre ice and throw their sticks in a pile and the two captains/ best skaters/ oldest boys would push the sticks into two piles and you would get your stick from one pile and that was your team. In most instances, the divisions were fair — each team would have a mix of starting, promising, good, and one or two fierce hockey players.
Players would line up against the player on the other team who was their match. You would think the best players would steal the puck from the weakest — but it was the opposite. The only moment the fastest guys were interested was when the other fastest players had the puck — then the game was on. Twisting, skating at impossible speeds, they would dart and swoop, dodging between little smallest (who, honest to God, would sometimes fall down, blasted by the wake of their flight), one aside, astride, behind the other, hacking, trying to lift the stick from the ice to steal the puck, all while racing in circles and figure eights past lesser beings. This would  end in either a goal or the puck being deliberately passed to one of the younger players — often the one lying on the rink — while the combatants would retire to the side to catch their breath.
The rules of the playground translated to the rink. There is no other way to describe the even division of pick up teams. Time outs — when all the little kids had to get off the ice so the teens could play unhindered. All on — when everyone was allowed on, and a young wizard of the puck could be seen squarely putting a missed pass onto the stick of a six year old chugging down the rink, racing to the impossibly far away goal, while another teenage defender skated backwards in front of that soon-to-be NHL forward ever so slowly, skates wide spread, swaying slightly from left to right, describing gentle arcs on the ice, before he would make a failed slap at the puck and a six year old slap shot rang out.
Again, often accompanied by a falling down.
Sometimes the puck went in — if the goalie wasn’t in net. But no one laughed. Instead — they cheered. “C’mon — skate, skate, shoot, shoot!”
Picture a wave of 6 and 7 year olds, on a break — 7 to 2 — the puck shuffles between them, always just in front, half of them skating on their ankles, looking more like a football team than a hockey team, and in front of them, lazily skating backwards, a big boy (a teenager) shouting to his friend in goal “Here they come! Are you ready?”
“I’m not sure we can handle them all!”
“We’re going to have to try!”
Letting the swarm within about six feet of the goal, then swiping the puck from them onto the “goaltender’s” stick, who would then shoot it the length of the ice (no icing). The two would wait for the tide to turn, head back to retrieve the puck, before assembling again, starting back up the ice en masse, determined to get it right this time.
This would last until the human wall fell down due to exhaustion. (This is how you build great hockey players.)
The gentle democracy of the well policed ice rink. By the kids, for the kids. There were no adults after school was closed. It didn’t matter. It was the neighbourhood rink and a certain … decorum … was expected.
A final picture — to evoke the beauty of that place, that time. It is night. A light snowfall fills the air with points of light as snowflakes drift out of the dark into the glare of the lights. As you approach the rink, before you can fully see who is there, you hear it — the slap of puck, the boom as it hits the boards, the keening of blades on ice, an indescribable sound as if the song implicit in the pre-game grinding of skate blades is allowed to sing. And the sight as you came closer — the game is four on four, and the game is on. No longer just teenage boys — these are the best, adults and teens. Age doesn’t matter — you get on the ice if you can play.
How they fly! They wear light jackets because they are sweating in the cold, steam rising above them. Most wear hockey gloves — some wear helmets. Their hair streams behind them. Often the only sound ragged breathing, quick shouts, grunts.
The game is shinny and the game is speed. That simple. They chase the puck. Pick it up along the boards. Come from behind the net in a formation of three, a delta of flight, man behind carrying the puck (you must always protect the puck). Qait to the last moment to pass to the next man, who in an instant passes ahead to the net to the lead skater who races, possessed to be there, at the net, at the exact moment when the puck must hit the blade of the stick and tip into the goal. Scores!
They round the net in a moment of victory, arms hoisted in the air, ballet with no ballerinas, as sweet as any win could be. All beneath a cold black winter’s night, surrounded by middle class neighbourhood of warm red brick houses, bright windows, smoke rising from their chimneys — the only sound — the slap of the puck, the boom of the boards, and the keening as skates caress ice.

Cleaning the Christmas tree stand, removing sap from the supports, the sticky residue has to be removed with alcohol. I think there is nothing you can’t write about. That the task is mundane, now the holidays are done, should be no constraint. There are no constraints to writing — writing abhors the mundane.
Sap sucks. It repels water. Plus it smells significantly of pine. That is nice. Which is about it. Oh, a really sticky bead was golden and translucent. Translucent is a great word.
But the sap was a bitch to remove.
I kept thinking about Charlie Hebdo. Twelve people murdered because they dared to make us laugh. Can you write about that? If there’s nothing you can’t write about — write about that. Not pine sap.
I clean. Alcohol helps — it really cuts through.
We constantly turn against ourselves. Tear each other in a diminishing of each other, of our humanity.
I get rid of the sap. The tree stand will be put away until next year. Then another tree will rise, covered in lights and ornaments while the world darkens, once again. This is our only comfort: what is bright cannot be undone.
Those who teach us to laugh, teach us to cherish. They attack what is best to refine us; ridicule what is worst to wake us up; challenge and define us; demand the exceptional and expect no less. Those who laugh are the best amongst us.
Meanwhile, on Mars, little Curiosity, somewhat removed from our Earthly hatreds, our Earthly groans and regrets, recently reported discovering methane. Which could mean life on Mars. Or not. It depends.
Having heard the news, when I fart in the kitchen, my son mentions methane on Mars. “Maybe it is like Lord of the Rings — under the mountains of Mars, giant sleeping Dads wait for the end of time, when they will right all wrongs, but for now, they sleep and fart.”
I clean the Christmas tree stand, think there is nothing you can’t write about and fart my way to Mars.
Merdre you murderers; merdre you demagogues; merdre morons of violence—you may have struck a blow in the birthplace of democracy but you only exposed yourselves as murderous cowards. You cannot understand how we laugh. But laugh we will.
Je suis Charlie, je suis Ahmid, aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous en train de rire.

Rachel arrives at our door with a loud knock. She is wearing a floral print dress, white stockings and black patent leather shoes (with small white velvet bows), totally unkempt lush blond hairstack. She announces she is here to marry Jarret, our 5 year old son (Rachel is 3 months older). Jarret comes to the door. He is dressed in blue sneakers, T-shirt, socks and Blue Jays baseball cap. He asks Rachel, “What are you doing here?” “We’re going to get married,” explains Rachel. “Where?” asks Jarret. “In the backyard.” That seems sufficient and Jarret leaves with Rachel.
I cannot contain my curiosity—I follow.
When I come outside with Arlen (Jarret’s brother), Jarret is alone in the backyard. “Where’s Rachel?” I ask. “She’s inside changing,” is the absent-minded reply. Jarret is standing behind the picnic table twirling a bamboo garden stake.
Rachel arrives.
She is now fully made up, eye shadow and liner, rouge on her cheeks, lipstick. She is dazzling ‘though the complete picture is somewhat marred by the radiant smile missing three front teeth—two up top, one below.
“Put down the stick,” she says.
“Why,” says Jarret.
“Because we’re going to get married.”
“You have to be exactly like me.” replies Jarret. Points the stick directly at her.
“Put down the stick,” she tells him, “Ward, tell him to put down the stick.”
I refuse to be pulled into it, “This is a game for two, Rachel,” I say, and am amazed how quickly that logic is accepted.
“Put down the stick,” she says.
“Why,” says Jarret.
“Cause I’m ready for you to chase me,” says Rachel, raising both her arms above her head.
Jarret doesn’t miss a beat, “If you want to marry me, then you have to chase ME.”
“No,” says Rachel, “ to get married, the boy chases the girl.”
“No,” says Jarret triumphantly, “the girl chases the boy.“
Rachel abandons the argument, “Put down the stick,” she says.
“No,” says Jarret.”
“Put down the stick.”
If you’ve ever listened to children arguing, we will pass on the next twenty odd exchanges.
Now, Rachel has moved around the picnic table to where Jarret is standing, twirling the stick. She grabs the stick and yanks it from his hands. She has the stick! She holds it aloft like the Olympic torch. She twirls it like a majorette. Jarret is nonplussed—which surprises me— anyone who takes something of his commits a most heinous crime.
I find out why he is so nonchalant.
Jarret grabs the stick near Rachel’s hands and pulls her to him and plants a big sloppy kiss on her lips. Rachel surprised, jumps back, then remembers their conversation about kissing as a proof of their marriage (which I have forgotten to recount), and leaps forward and kisses Jarret back!
Well … things quickly disintegrate. Jarret drops all pretense and leaps on Rachel, traps her head between his hands and proceeds to kiss her repeatedly. Rachel is elbows up, punching and pushing Jarret away. I move in and break up the now combatants.
The marriage ceremony is over. Minutes later the bride and groom are entranced, riding tricycles, pulling around wagons, bound to each other with skipping ropes, full of toys.

It just occurred to him, when did his culture become so rinky-dink? Everyone so messianically self-assured – always capable of passing judgment on anyone – when did it happen? He couldn’t put his finger on any moment but he felt it, and he was pretty sure everyone else in this culture felt it – because it had all slipped, seismically, a trickle of sand that turned into a torrent of bedrock that turned its back on us and slid into the abyss.

This thought occurred when he turned off the radio in disgust. The first thought had been: when did DJ’s start whining? Sure, on-air self analysis—that was OK, ranting—call it like it is—complaining, get it out—but whining? here is the DJ telling us about his mother who won’t take care of herself, won’t do anything they suggest, and always wants a pill to make it all better. He starts this private glimpse by starting with – “let’s talk about my Mother and her drug use”, and continues.

Driving, he just let the idiot prattle on. But when the music started he turned the radio off in disgust—with himself. He had just listened to that idiot go on and on – and that was when, looking out the window of the car watching various levels of the superhighway go by each etched with its trim of lights — he realized his disgust was generated by this DJ sharing with his audience this incredible judgment – that his Mother was worthy of scorn, derision, possibly a social outcast and lesser person because she wanted a drug to make things better!

He thought “I’d take a drug that makes everything better.”

The thought settled on him then. This conviction that everyone was willing to judge each other at a moment’s notice – harshly, vindictively. Because, after words, there would be general acclaim, sharing, and vindication. We judge to do so publicly and expect to be noticed in return. To be agreed with, to be deemed worthy of inclusion, rather than exclusion  — guaranteed certitude based and a smidge of self-importance. God, he thought, when did it all begin – the beginning of the end?

Then the sour thought occurred – no — this has been going on since… forever. Is that it? Is that our, mankind’s, fate? Mankind is an oxymoron?

(a quick note of explanation—this begins the 5th chapter of The World is So Poetic: Essays—it’s gonna be poetic prose for awhile — and how better to start than with a muse upon the obvious oxymoron “poetic prose”?)

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