Blame it on the Wind Chill

Chapter 5

I don’t even know her name.

I realize this as I’m jogging home—suavely, or trying to, at least; the snow as necessary mysterious fog and the breeze, a natural, extra-velocious wind machine. I hope my hair looks alright.

I feel a bit dazed over what just happened. I didn’t expect to meet a girl here, and certainly not a ghost from my past. I don’t know how comfortable I am with the I-know-you-but-you-don’t-know-me thing, but I have a feeling I’ll be seeing her around, and knowing her route makes it all the easier. Untimely injuries will induce stalkerish tendencies, just saying.

I cross onto my street and see a boy, about ten or so, walking down the driveway to my uncle’s house. He carries a shovel in one hand, a gnarly hunk of metal almost bigger than him. It’s got a slender handle that appears to be bent out of shape pretty bad. I kind of have a knack for identifying illegal curves.

He leans against the brick wall, huffing and puffing like he’s trying to blow the house down. I remember what it was like to shovel sidewalks for money. Over the years, I’ve probably pushed, lifted, and dumped my own weight in that stuff to an exponent. It’s tough work, tougher than what I do now; all hockey players do is eat, sleep, and play hockey. Nonetheless, when you’re not tall enough to go on the good rides at Wonderland, the moneymaking opportunities are also significantly less. You can forget allowance because the charity money mom and pop have to spare is not going to cut it in supporting a young man’s lifestyle. So sometimes there’s no choice but to strap on the hockey helmet, put on some ski goggles and venture into a snow labyrinth to load that piggy bank. I’ll admit I’ve done stupid things as a kid, mainly because I was stupid, but in terms of financial smarts, I was the skinny, blonde Bill Gates. Though less nerdy, more athletic. Business, entrepreneurship, selling yourself —those skills were all learned on the streets. How else did you think we could afford to hook up our girls with McNuggets and fulfill our hockey and Nintendo needs? Get money, get paid. I have that on a poster somewhere.

“What’s up, buddy,” I say cheerfully, flying onto the deck in one parkour-inspired Bobby Orr leap.

The boy immediately drops his shovel and it hits the ground with a cringe worthy clang. “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, mister!” He jumps back, looking genuinely terrified. I have got to learn to tone down the approach. “I’m not uh, what’s that word—loitering—I swear.” His eyes are compass-drawn round as if he just saw the Grudge. “Please don’t send me to jail,” he squeaks.

I laugh. “It’s cool. I just wanted to see what you were doing. Not going to jail, I promise.” He looks unconvinced, but relaxes. When I was young, children like him ran loose all over the neighbourhoods and you wouldn’t think twice about a kid with a large shovel hanging around your house. I suppose people are being super conscious for minor grave diggers nowadays.

“Thank you mister,” he sighs in relief. “My sister told me if I kept hanging out around peoples’ homes, they were going to think I’m a creep and call the cops on me. You don’t think I’m a creep, do you?”

“No, of course not, dude. And props to what you’re doing. I shovelled for years as a kid.” He hesitantly meets my fist bump. “I want to speak to that sister of yours. I bet she was just screwing around with you.” I make a face. “Girls. They just don’t get us. We’ll have to get her back.”

“Thanks, sir.” He holds out a hand, all business this one. “Drew, future NHLer.”

That explains it. The kids of the new generation—these millennium kids—they don’t know what it was like to grow up in the 20th century, where kids had to sign up months ahead to book computer time at home and Vanilla Ice was our rink anthem, instead of this bad pop epidemic. In short, a lot of them are ungrateful, not to mention have no taste in music whatsoever. They don’t understand what it was like to beg mom for odd chores to do or to run a worm digging business. It seems like they have everything made for them, whereas we had to work for what we wanted. But like all things, there are exceptions: hockey players.

Don Cherry claims hockey parents are the greatest parents in the world, and while I’m in no position to make bold statements like that, somewhere in the hierarchy of supernatural beings, they should be up there, chilling with Martin Luther King and chatting with Abe Lincoln. Forget comic book heroes; I bet Superman never had to wake up at unreal hours to start the car or sacrifice paycheques after paycheques on sporting goods that seemed to be always in need of replace. Some kids seem to take the generosity for granted, but most try to help out, covering at least their own tape and puck costs.

“Nice to meet you. Cam, current NHLer,” I say, shaking his hand. He looks stunned for a second before looking me up and down.

“No waaaay bro. Hold on a second, what are you doing here? You’re not a Maple Leaf.” He looks as if he’s concentrating real hard to process my face in the database of players in his head. I can tell he’s a pretty dedicated fan.

“No I’m not, but I’m on injury leave.” Drew looks me over again, trying to guess the injury. What is he looking for, a missing limb? “It’s complicated.”

“Okay, buddy, whatever that means. Oh I know; you’re Taylor Hall!”

“Nope, it’s Cam.”

“Cam Ward?”

“Try again.”

“Cam Barker?”

“Not even close.”

“I give up,” he sighs, looking around and throwing his arms up. He spots the old wooden plaque nailed crookedly above our house number, a prime example of my uncle’s impeccable handiwork. “Cam Fowler?”

“We have a winner.” He gives me an is-this-kid-for-real sort of look, which I guess isn’t too off the mark. Ducks players aren’t usually advertised up here, I mean between the Kessel, Phaneuf, and Kaberle posters crawling over the city there’s simply no room in this concrete jungle for a poster of some no name 12th draft pick. This kid has probably never really watched any of our games. I didn’t either; they were always on so late.

“Wow. I’ve never heard of you in my life.”

“Well now you have,” I say, quietly suffering another blow to my pride. “I was just drafted last year by Anaheim.”

“The Ducks? I don’t know much about the team, to be honest. Look, I kinda have to get moving. My sister’s going to be really mad if I’m late for breakfast again. Can I…?” I give the go-ahead. He goes to ring the doorbell, which has been replaced since I was last here.

We wait as the dingdong trills through the house. The door finally opens, greeted by a tired looking Uncle Eric, with a remote control in his hand. He looks at me puzzledly, before glancing back to Drew. “Hey bud, what are you doing here so early? Noon practice, son, not….8:05. Go run around the bush or something. I dunno. Look for girls.” Drew rolls his eyes.

“Actually, I was wondering if you’ll let me clear your driveway. For a reasonable price, of course.”

“You trying to rip me off? There’s like five centimetres on the ground.”

“Five centimetres that’s going to turn into ice if you don’t shovel it, Coach. My sister says so.”

“Your sister, eh? You hang on to every last one of her words.” Uncle Eric crosses his arms and does his best impression of a poker face. “Fine, how does five dollars sound?”

“A fiver?” I interrupt, incredulous. “Wait a second. We only ever got loonies and toonies.” Uncle Eric was always a tough customer for kids’ shovelling businesses. You’d think that because we were family, he’d give us blood advantage, but in fact it was the opposite. He was always one to use our desperation and poverty for cheap labour. Not fair.

“Ah well, the times a-changin’. Plus, I feel generous, and Drew Skywalker here plays a pretty mean blueline. Don’t forget to salt the steps.” I laugh. It’s a pretty amusing moniker. A lot more creative than the standard formula of adding an –er or a y-sound to a player’s last name.

“Thanks, Coach.”

“No problem, kid.” He picks up his old shovel and begins bulldozing through the snow. “Hey,” Uncle Eric says to me. “Sorry, we don’t support girl scouts here, but old Patty Simon across the street seems nice.”

“Funny. This kid plays for ya?”

“He’s a hell of a player. Only ten years old, but so dedicated he makes me seem like a punk. Very good two-way player, kinda reminds me of you, but smarter.”

“That was blunt. You’re tearing me apart here.”

“That just means I’m doing my job. I’m going to go in now, but uh, keep an eye on Drew, will you? Not that I don’t trust him, but I need to make sure I’m getting the most out of my five bucks.”

“Fine.” I take a seat on the steps, cracking icicles off the rail, something I’ve always done subconsciously.

“Are you going to just sit there, or are you going to help?” he asks, trying to build a mountain upon another. “I’m struggling here, but feel free to stand by.”

I smile. “You sure can talk. And I’m not the one getting paid, big-shot. The tag states ‘supervisor’.” He grimaces and I can tell he is beginning to tire. We can’t all be marathon men like Kovalev. “I would help you, but I don’t think your coach would be happy about that. Plus, he’s staring at us through the window and it’s kind of creeping me out.” Uncle Eric gives me a little wave. I look away nonchalantly, running a hand through my hair. He has the intense stare, which is quite the norm for a coach. “You know what, I think I have something for you.”

“What?” He stops and looks.

“Keep going,” I say. “I’ll be right back.” I go to the garage and punch in the code, which, predictably, is the number my uncle wore in juniors, followed by 99, and Tim’s date of birth. He never breaks the cycle. I told him that he’ll get hacked one day, but he was blasé as always, saying, “Why would some Asian kid want my files? I don’t think he’d care about the number of turnovers you registered this week or my revealing account of the double-double I had on my way to the rink this morning. I’m flattered, Cam, but my life is not that interesting.”

The door lifts automatically, saving me the trouble of having the bend over. I cannot be Fragile Leclaire. I contort my body through old bikes and broken ski poles, sifting through deformed watering cans, wooden baseball bats, two-by-fours, an inflatable sports cage, and a giant rabbit’s head. It takes a while before I spot her. She’s a red thing of beauty, dusty, but her prettiness doesn’t diminish. She’s even more beautiful than I remember. I delicately lift her out of neglect and spider webs. Looks good to me.

“Take a look at this,” I say, beckoning him over.

“It’s a shovel,” he deadpans. “What’s so special about it?”

“Are you kidding me? Drew, meet Yoko.”

“As in Ono?’

“No way. And how do you even know that?” He shrugs. “Yoko as in the cat, from Timothy Goes to School, duh. I had a huge crush on her when I was five. About the same time I got this shovel.” He looks at me, expectantly, as if to say, that’s it? “Well it was either that or Francine from Arthur. I was sort of juggling both of them at once,” I say, crossing my arms in defence. I’ve always loved the opposite sex. It’s not an addiction, as Tiger Woods claims, but there’s nothing wrong with admiring pretty ladies. And Yoko was a violinist. Beauty and brains.

“You’re so…weird.” There’s something vaguely degrading about being called out by a kid who probably doesn’t even know how babies are made. “You know who’s hot? Maria Sharapova.” He smirks devilishly.

“Huh. I like the way you think.” At some point in every man’s life, they’ve got to move past the innocent world of milk and cookies, the novelty of sneaking gum into gym class and subsequently choking on it when you’re pressured to make the perfect chest pass, and transitioning from ugly velcro grandma trainers to the Adidas with the fat laces. I’m talking about manning up and dipping into your dad’s Sports Illustrated stash or trying to watch scrambled porn on a high channel, but realizing halfway through it’s just the Hanson brothers from Slapshot and your cable probably got chewed up by pesky squirrels. It’s time to activate a part of your body that’s been dormant, but ready to rupture like a volcano. A second brain, women would say. After all, it’s then that you realize Jennifer Lopez has a nice rear. Martin Brodeur does not. Jessica Alba has an impressive set of chesticles. Half-tonne man does not. It’s self actualization, really. All theoretical and shit. Except that it usually happens after puberty, unless you’re a hair-flipping small-town Ontario boy. Then everything mankind has achieved sort of goes out the window.

“It’s okay if you disagree. Not every guy has good taste in women. Have you seen the new Chicago ice girls? Now that guy who hired them has a messed up beauty ideology.”

“You’re freaking me out buddy,” I say, “where are you getting this stuff?”

“I read things. Things that my sister would probably think are inappropriate, but things, nonetheless. So, the shovel?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I stammer, trying to remember where I was getting at in the first place, before it got sidelined. I can see Uncle Eric looking out the window again. He holds up his Flavor Flav watch. Time is money. “I just thought you might want to use this one. She may be old, but still better than that…thing you’re using.”

“Thanks, but no thanks, I’ve got it.”

“Wh—hold on a second, buddy. You’re not seriously turning her down. That’s a major no-no in my books.” I hold her up the way a captain would lift the Stanley Cup.

“No offense. Like, sticking with your theme, this shovel is kind of my girl. We’ve been through a lot over the years and it was my d—.” He stops mid-sentence and looks down momentarily. His dad’s? “Nevermind. It’s like how baseball players wouldn’t share or borrow another guy’s gloves. That’d just be wrong.”

“Equipment infidelity, gotcha,” I laugh. He gets back to work, while I close up the garage, watching him move to the sidewalk and carve out the concrete slabs like an artist chiselling out a naked Greek dude out of marble. “You should probably wrap things up after this. You look like Pavelec in the season opener.”

He doesn’t pause, finding a new surge of energy and probably missing the joke. “My arms feel like jelly,” he groans. “I just went around the block and my house is right next door, so yeah, this is my last one today.” He finishes up the driveway before coming back for the salt bucket.

“Looks good,” I quip when he’s all done, handing over the money.

“Thanks.” He stuffs it into his coat pocket. “See you at practice?”

“You bet.”

I head on inside. What a morning.
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To the few followers, I know, I'm an awful updater. I’ve always had trouble writing or doing work this time of year; the good weather (double digits=cookout) and of course, gearing for the playoffs (gotta finalize my fantasy pool—I can’t owe my 10 year old brother money!). I will try to get the next chapter, or at least a sub thereof, up soon.