When I was growing up, living in my parents’ house, life unfolded in a pattern and with some predictable regularity. In the evening, when dinner was over, Dad would settle down to read the paper, while my brothers, my Mom and I conducted whatever complicated negotiations were required to arrange the evening’s television viewing schedule. Very often, all five of us would be gathered together – paper being read, some sitcom like Barney Miller on the tube – in the little family room that sat next to the kitchen.
The kitchen was at the back of the house and there were no streetlights nearby; as a result, there was little or no ambient light streaming through the kitchen window or the patio door that led out into the yard. For some reason, though, I remember a light on the Jenn Air stove very frequently being left on and bathing the room in a soft, warm glow.
Growing up with my brothers and my parents, we were fortunate enough to enjoy happy times. When I think of that house and the time I spent living there, I have fond memories. For some reason, one of the many mental images that springs to mind when I think of those days is the kitchen, illuminated in muted tones by the stove light.
Thirty-one years later, I found myself washing up some of the after-dinner dishes and putting some things away in my own kitchen. As I dried my hands on a towel and clicked off the light switch on the wall, I turned to look over my shoulder as I was walking out of the kitchen and heading to my own family room. We don’t have a Jenn Air, but there is a microwave suspended over our stove with a built-in light on the bottom. it was on and casting a dull but pleasant yellowish glow on the surface of the cupboards and the stovetop below.
I smiled and headed in to the family room to watch some television with Spouse.
Both Spouse and I had the day off today – the first of a few in a row over the holiday season, I am pleased to report – and we started things off with a bang by getting up early and heading over to the local community centre for a free skate, courtesy of no less significant a Canadian institution than Tim Horton’s. It’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition for everyone’s favourite donut-and-coffee provider to provide free public skating on a number of days over the holidays in little rinks across Canada.
It’s a great idea, the perfect marriage of community-minded goodwill with a marketing opportunity made in heaven. Those most likely to partake are those who already spend a fair portion of their lives haunting the ramshackle rinks in the little places across this frozen country; travel team Dads, figure-skating circuit Moms and pickup hockeyists of all ages, shapes and sizes are the ones likely to see the signs and to bring out their loved ones for a free turn around the local sheet. They are also, of course, the folk most likely to be sitting rubbing their hands together in the frozen blue light of a cold Canadian morning that hasn’t quite arrived, desperately trying to warm the car up before heading off for their scheduled game, lesson or competition, and the folk most likely to drop in to the Horton’s drive thru for a cup o’ joe to try and stave off the chill for just a little while.
For me, the skate was a welcome opportunity to get out from under what Spouse assures me is a very powerful Christmas jinx that is certain to cause all manner of calamity. The particular jinx involved arises, I am told, when one has failed to use a Christmas gift prior to the next ensuing Christmas Day. As it happens, I have a brand spankin’ new set of CCM Tacks, a lovely Yuletide gift from Spouse last year that – with last winter’s search for a new home and our eventual move, among other things – didn’t get taken out for a single spin.
Needless to say, the boots were feeling a little stiff. I laced them up, pulled as tight as I could and knew I was in trouble when I had essentially run out of laces when it came time to tie the knot; this suggested very strongly to me that the skate boots were not drawn nearly as tight as they should be on my foot, a fact that was quickly confirmed when I took my first tentative steps out on to the ice. It was the difference between wearing the skates and having them tied to your leg; between standing in them and standing on them. I lasted only a few slow and technically undemanding laps before I retreated to the seating area for another attempt at tightening the laces much more substantially, an effort I am pleased to report was fruitful.
Spouse too was facing challenges; her own skates were a gift from her parents more than half a dozen years ago, a stoutly constructed pair of figure skates that are still rigidly unyielding and far from broken in.
Today’s skate was early: the session started at 8 o’clock and ran ’til 9:30. We arrived fashionably late, and were pleased to find that – on this day, perhaps because of the early Monday morning start – the sheet of ice was relatively empty. We turned our laps in the company of perhaps twenty other people, at most. We briefly tried a little ice dancing – Spouse is a brave soul to get into that kind of close quarters with a fellow whose two left feet and uniquely spastic rhythms have had their usual level of hazard augmented by the attachment of freshly sharpened blades to the bottom of his flailing limbs.
After forty-five minutes, our extremities were telling us we’d had enough and we headed back to the little dressing room with smiles on our faces. Skates removed, pins and needles buzzing in the bottoms of our feet, we headed out of the rink and were greeted warmly by a stranger coming in with an armload of hockey gear for an oldtimer’s game of some description. The rink is truly the hub of small town Canadian community, and you feel it very palpably as you stand in the lobby near the concession stand, smell the arena popcorn and french fries; you haven’t ever been in this building, but you have very definitely been here before. We headed out into the brilliant blue morning, rosy cheeked smiles on our faces, off to do our last minute Christmas shopping, or whatever else lay ahead on the snowy road in front of us.
“Snow-mageddon“, the snowstorm of the year, has come and gone as promised. Mother Nature behaved quite civilly, for an old lady throwing a meterological shit fit. ‘Round these parts (he said, hitching his overalls up by the straps with both thumbs) the storm began at a reasonable hour – sometime around 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, and really didn’t gather ferocity until after Spouse and I had safely arrived at work. The teeth of the storm were mostly bared during the meaty portion of the work day – a frosty, face-full-of-cold-razor-blades undoubted inconvenience while walking around downtown Hamilton, but really nothing more. At around 4 o’clock, as promised (such genteel behaviour!) and in plenty of time for us to journey home in the daylight, the storminess of the storm fizzled and we set out on our journey home.
The roads were snow-covered and generally somewhat slippery, but more than passable. I think we may actually be in a better position than many folks, living in our current location, because we generally only have to travel over main roads to arrive at our destination – main roads that get prompt and careful attention from the plowing crews. I suspect that folks who live in subdivisions and down residential sidestreets were having to negotiate thoroughfares that were much more generously covered with snow than we did. We really didn’t reach any significant obstacle at all, until…
…we reached the driveway.
The path leading in to Juniorvania is about a hundred yards long, measured from the edge of the road on our northern border. We need a path about nine feet wide to get the official Juniorvanian Transport vehicle up the drive. The snow was about a foot deep. By my calculations, assuming uniform distribution and depth of snow (an unwarranted assumption, especially at the roadside where the plows had wrought their special brand of hellish magic), 2700 cubic feet of snow needed to be moved. It was a very physical and very intimdating demonstration of the last mile concept.
In 1998, it somehow happened that my band agreed to write some music – on a volunteer, we can’t pay you for this basis – for a movie that was being directed by a friend of a friend. In truth, I do remember how this arrangement came to pass, but the story is boring, pointless and convoluted and involves far too many ridiculous characters. In one of life’s clever little ironies, it so happens that one might say exactly the same thing about the script for the movie in question. (Dammit, Joel Siegel, this game is easy!) It’s more fun, therefore, if I decline to tell you the truth about how this composing engagement came to pass and simply tell you instead that Heroes in Rehab won this opportunity as a prize for placing sixth in a sack race at the Directors Guild of Canada annual summer picnic. That is saying something, because even this last explanation is roughly as much fun as gum disease.
But I digress.
My point is that we had this job to do and people were depending on us. Those of you in the working world will understand these concepts and identify them as something known as “responsibility”. It is something that is entirely foreign to musicians, serious artists and other more highly evolved and important life forms. Being a musician is not about producing things on time (except for musicians who actually get paid to do what they do because they’re good at it); when you are a Serious Artist (please read: “unemployed”) working on a Weighty Piece of Art, you cannot be rushed, especially when you haven’t got a fucking clue what you’re doing or why (which is most of the time).
The General and Norte have both written about Maple Leaf Gardens recently; meanwhile Sean is in the middle of a series consisting of a Clark¹ of posts concerning the greatness that was the Man from Kelvington. A discussion has been raging over at PPP about the proper placement of Mats Sundin in the Maple Leaf pantheon. My own view on this last issue is that the most obvious historical parallel to Sundin is Frank Mahovlich, another great player Leaf fans were famously hesitant to fully embrace – both were (relatively speaking) large men with long strides that many people wrongly perceived as slow, uninvolved or lazy; both had plenty of drive, offensive talent and finish around the net; and both men were men of class and character, quiet leaders who were not prone to dropping the gloves.
Right now, I am not liking Mats Sundin or Frank Mahovlich very much, because they are both getting in the way of my own Maple Leaf Gardens story. So here it is: I played hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens – once.