Blame it on the Wind Chill

Chapter 15

When you need a friend, you can always count on your teammates.

“And when I need a good laugh, I can always count on you!” my uncle would laugh heartily in response, finger pointing straight to the overflowing bullshit jar beside the entertainment units.

Truthfully, it sounds like something Don Cherry would say in the same breath as a demoralizing comment about the current European visor trends in that gentlemanly twang of his that gives me a guilty incentive to call Gramps at the nursing home. Or the hook in one of those poorly self composed songs Joffrey Lupul likes to strum on his guitar, while staring out at the full moon with a single tear rolling down his cheek. Well save for the last part. He’s with the Ducks, for crying out loud. Matt Lashoff of the Leafs, perhaps?

Yet as you dive headfirst into the world of first tier professional hockey, you come to realise that you and your fellow colleagues share an unbreakable bond. One of critical road roomie drafts, unoriginal nicknames, and mutual understanding of concepts and emotions that outsiders—yes, you, Eklund—can only speculate and blog satire about, but will never truly identify with.

Point is the team starts to become your family, more or less dysfunctional than your actual kinship. A mixed and blended brotherhood by puck that is so deeply rooted, an injury leave feels bizarrely like departing the nest.

Then again, I’ve only been getting the paycheques for a couple months now, not decades upon decades as defined by Gordie Howe’s crazy, unjustifiable forever of a career. So why does it feel so strange to be back home to the grind of low-key normalcy again?

And it hits me that maybe I’ve begun lose myself as a person, outside of this electrifying hockey bubble where I’m the faceless rookie on and suspected photo bomber to those who haven’t yet seen a copy of this year’s roster sheet, lingering in the background of team pictures. Who am I when the Wiz-Khalifa-approved black and yellow armour comes off? What am I supposed to do with myself?

Maybe this is the Hockey Gods’ way of making me truly appreciate the kind of how lucky I am to have this career opportunity and this life. Days just aren’t the same without the veteran (Selanne) usual: having shaving cream in my socks after every practice as some sort of evil practical joke against the fresh meat from juniors. He tells me that’s how they say ‘hi’ in Finland.

The doorbell goes off in the form of a goal horn.

I’m taken aback and almost jump into the glass pane beside Travis’s door in celebration, out of habit. Thankfully, I don’t because the broken glass jar from high school biology is a distance from here and I wouldn’t know what to do with it otherwise. Sadly, I end up doing an awkward rendition of the stanky leg like I once saw John Carlson perform in the locker room after our World Juniors win. He’s got a mild case of the So-I-Think-I-Can-Dance.

“Relax,” laughs Becky, placing a steady hand on my shoulder. I proceed to drop the airborne leg. “It catches most people off guard.” The horn goes off again and I guess it would be kind of awesome to have an obnoxious blast of a sound go off every time someone comes knocking at your door. Unless you’re Roberto at the United Center. Then it’s a little bit depressing.

Travis comes to the door, accompanied by Jodie—a little vacant-eyed and wearing a shirt too sheer to be seasonably appropriate. Not that I’m one to judge, being a long-time recipient of the once-over experience. At the same time, I can tell there’s a ninja glare washing over Becky’s face seeing the blonde’s ample cleavage spilling onto Travis’s arm and the very noticeable purple push up bra beneath the lace. It’s Victoria’s Secret. I know the catalogue. Don’t ask. I begin to raise my hand to put on the small of Becky’s back, defensively, but decide against it, knowing better—that she’d brush me off immediately.

“Hey guys!” sings Jodie Garland before lunging at Becky and pulling her into a superficial, ‘Darling, it’s fabulous to see you!’ type of embrace. “So nice you could make it,” she gushes, looking at me.

“So nice,” Becky tightly smiles in an attempt to be non-passive aggressive. She grimaces a little as she discreetly untangles a piece of the overly exuberant girl’s hair that’s snagged on to her feather earring.

Travis claps me on the shoulder with the hand that is not wielding a red ping pong paddle. “I see you got our guest here in one piece…this time,” he congratulates Becky, who looks like she wants to clock him in response. “I told her to be gentle with you. She can be a heck of a ride.”

“Appreciate it,” I reply. “She was on her best behaviour today,” I lie.

The snow begins to fall again and it kind of looks magical in a Tim Horton’s commercial way. “Let’s move the my brother’s keeper episode inside please,” grumbles an exasperated Becky, rubbing her cold hands together like she’s lathering the way recommended by WHO posters in public restrooms. I couldn’t agree more. After finally adapting to the southern weather patterns I never thought I’d have to sport the ever-so-Canadian bearded-toque and ski goggles combo again. I kind of wish I did tonight, seeing as the icicles looming over my head are looking dangerously sharp.

His place is nice and Travis is quick to point out the notable attractions—his grandfather’s WWII memorabilia collection draped with hundreds of poppies, a beaver taxidermy his mother won in an auction, and a basket of barbeque wings left on the kitchen counter marked ‘safe to eat’ with a pink post-it and a smiley face. “It’s safe,” Travis reaffirms with a thumbs up. We pick it up before descending into the basement.

What lies beneath ground level is a whole different story from the prim and proper thing going on upstairs. It’s a total man cave. Basically, everything I would’ve wanted in a space as an adolescent. And everything that I would probably have now if I weren’t staying at the Niedermayers. It’s the exact representation of masculinity that Tim and I tried to create with his lair, but failed to, because, let’s be honest; I just don’t possess that aesthetic flair unlike some other NHLers like to flaunt during regular appearances on MTV Cribs.

Becky drapes her jacket over the ugly tartan couch that’s seen more parties and third base action than Jayson Nix during a Blue Jays game. The way this fabric holds onto stains is grossly impressive. “I’m here,” she says, dropping her scarf on Devan’s glued-to-the-laptop-screen face, while lying on said couch.

“Yeah, I felt the earthquake coming,” he responds, still jabbing away at the keyboard. She pulls out the sketchy Japanese lap pillow resting under his head, which sparks an outrage. “Hey!” He turns his head sharply.

She smiles sweetl and returns him his sexy lady cushion in a three-pointer throw that just bounces out of his reach. “Hi to you, too. I swear I’ll drop kick you in the voice box one of these days and you’ll be able to sing your own covers of those BlogeSalming songs you like to watch so much.”

Devan slaps her thigh jokingly, sets the invention for mobile porn aside, and gives her a happy? smirk. “I’ve almost exhausted the f and u keys, anyway,” he sighs, rising a mighty two inches from his comfort spot to hug her legs. For a second Becky feels what it’s like to be Zdeno Chara. “Hey man,” he greets me with a smile. “Just trash talking this guy from my fantasy league,” he explains. “He seems to think those Habs have a chance of winning the northeast this year.”

I walk over to meet his high five. No one ever high fives me anymore and I miss it, so it’s a Polaroid moment, for sure. “Optimism is nice.” Considering the latest standings, that seems to be a fair assessment, despite the horror it casts on this particular city.

“He goes to York University. I’m going to beat him up.”

Evidently, it also casts a hunger for brawls. I’m just about to say something about violence being an invalid solution to hockey rivalries when I’m handed a beer and that should shut me up and spare me from looking like a hypocrite that’s lost an IQ point too many from not tightening my chin strap as a child. I swear whenever Boston and Montreal take up the gauntlet, the event on Ticketmaster should be titled UFC: Team Challenge for a more accurate illustration.

“It’s too early to drink,” Becky declares weakly. She takes a sip of bubbly herself. “If we’re planning on playing the Pierre McGuire game we’ll be passed out by the first intermission.” Another swig.

“I thought the point of early drinking was to build up enough numbness to get you through the game.” Devan points out logically. “Now’s not the time to start being sensible. Don’t tell me not to drink.” He wags his finger. “Don’t be a douche canoe.”

“Wait a second, I thought we were watching a movie?” ponders Jodie from the doorway where she’s leaning and sipping something pink in a glass, placed on the lower shelf of sports magazine next to her. Blinking her eyes slowly she furrows her insanely plucked and tweaked brows in confusion. “What? No one told me. I don’t even like hockey that much.” Her eyes spend the next few seconds darting back and forth between the range of looks directed at her, from Becky’s annoyed to Devan’s dumbfounded and my flabbergasted. Travis is digging around for some extra X-Box controllers, but even he turns to look.

“Door’s upstairs to the right,” mutters Becky, which earns a shin kick from Devan. “Ouch!”

Not catching Becky’s latest comment, Jodie juts out a hip and sighs dramatically. “Whatever. It’s fine. I’ll stay anyway,” she shrugs, like she’s doing us a favour by gracing us with her presence. I can’t help but notice out of the corner of my eye that Travis’s eyes are shut, fists are clenched, and he’s mouthing something that reads an awful lot like ‘Noooo!’

As an outsider with little background insight who knows next to nothing about the personal affairs within this circle of friends, and non-friends, and undistinguishables, I think it’s normal to feel a little bit like a duck out of water. Waddle, waddle.

I sigh. All in all, I just want a night of fun, no drama—save for Brian Burke’s theatrical gestures from the press box, and to watch hockey the way I’ve missed all these months—as your typical fan in a cold basement, drinking cheap beer with the buds. But with all the tension, I just hope I’m not getting in over my head here, making friends and building bonds when I really should be making sweat at GoodLife and mending muscular tissue. Getting my nose in holes I shouldn’t be digging in the first place. Because digging is straining on the back, I know.

I raise a bottle to my lips.

If this gets ugly, I don’t really want to be the one to Maury Povich it.

But here’s to taking a chance with people.

♠ ♠ ♠
I really want to apologize to all you wonderful readers who continue to read and comment, in spite of the awful updater that I am. School is not a good situation right now and I've been feeling uninspired. I realize this chapter is neither monstrous, nor very good (I'm considering rewriting this), but hopefully I'll get more done in the coming days of this much-needed long weekend!