The elevator at my hotel in Bratislava was the kind that have doors on both sides so that you never really know which way to face. And as I got in, the people in there had already figured out that the front of the elevator was on the other side, which meant that when I entered the car from the back, I found myself staring at Vyacheslav Bykov’s neck.
I was a little disappointed because I had expected to be able to jump in and practice my Blue Steel look without an audience.
Bykov, Russia’s (now former) head coach was riding the elevator – down, and I suppose there’s some symbolism in it – with, I assumed, his wife and daughter. Russia had lost their semifinal game against Finland the day before, so I was curious about his state of mind, and was happy to see that he wasn’t devastated by the loss, as he smiled and listened to his daughter explain something to him in French.
I recognized him right away, despite the fact that he wasn’t wearing a suit with a big, orange Victory Day ribbon on his lapel, nor a track suit, the only two pieces of clothing I had seen him wear before. And there he was now, in black jeans and a shirt, laughing it up with his family.
I took half a step closer to the former star player, and a modern-day hockey legend, and straightened my back to measure myself against him. He was a little taller than me. About as much as my father.
He’s always reminded me of my father, too, although he doesn’t really look like him. It’s probably just the Slavic look that my Dad has, with the cheekbones and the dark hair.
I took a half a step back, and then the elevator doors closed – and then opened again behind me. My butt was apparently blocking the door. I took another step forward, a little embarrassed. Except that in my family, butts have always been something to be proud of.
“Hah, you think you can hide behind that mattress with that butt,” my mother yelled to me once when I was 14. She meant it as a compliment. I had a real hockey player’s butt.
And when Eric Heiden won five gold medals in Lake Placid, we sat glued to the TV and admired his thighs. Dad was convinced that his thighs were even bigger.
However, back in the day when I thought my father was the coolest person alive, it was his arms that I admired the most. Looking at his arms, he was the closest thing to a real-life Popeye I knew. His arms weren’t freakishly big – like Popeye’s – but they looked, and were, strong.
Compared to his, or to anybody else’s arms, mine were like two pieces of spaghetti. Dad’s arms were so thick that he couldn’t even get his fingers around his wrists, a trick he really liked to show me, so I guess he was pretty proud of his arms, too.
Arms maketh man, I thought.
I didn’t want to give the impression that I was listening in on the Bykovs’ conversation so I leaned against the wall and looked away. I looked at my reflection in the mirror, and my arms that were folded across my chest – and I saw two solid man’s arms. I glanced at the Bykovs, they were still talking, so I dropped my arms to my sides and flexed my forearms. Still there.
The elevator doors opened, and we all walked out. Just outside the elevator, I slapped my forehead, the universal signal that let everybody in the lobby know that I had obviously forgot something upstairs, and got into the elevator. I rode it back to the third floor, with my arms across my chest all the way.
I did realize that if my arms really were like that, my gut is probably also bigger than I think, but I decided to worry about that some other day.