He said he didn’t kick the guy, and I believe him. He didn’t just say it, he screamed it, he yelled, he cried it out so the words echoed in the cold, cold rink. He was sitting on the plank that was also the stands, just seconds after the ref had thrown him out of the game, and he was just beside himself. He was so sad and so angry that he was almost delirious, it seemed.
“I didn’t kick him. I DIDN’T KICK HIM,” he yelled again.
The outdoor skating arena looked pretty much the same it always did. It wasn’t really a rink, not a hockey rink, anyway, because it was huge. On a good day, there’d be six or seven pickup hockey games going on at the same time, and half of the bandy arena was still available for people who just wanted to skate.
On one crisp December morning, though, there were no pickup games going on, because, well, it was cold and because the kids were supposed to be at school. The ice was clean and shiny under the lights that swayed a little in the wind.
I climbed up the stands, all the way to the top, and looked out to the arena. I saw just one boy skating out there.
“Hey, Timmy, do you even have a father,” somebody yelled from across the dressing room.
Timmy didn’t say anything, he just kept on adjusting his pads, as if he hadn’t heard anything. The question was repeated at least once, but when Timmy just got up and pulled up his hockey pants, and put on his sweater, the others lost interest. Somebody turned up the music.
“Born to run” was blasting off the stereo. It was a mixed tape, a pre-game tape, and it was time for Born to Run. Then it was time for “Highway to Hell”, and then, against all odds, “Against All Odds”.
Timmy got it before every game, which is why at this point in the season, in January, he didn’t care anymore. It was almost as much a part of our pre-game routine as the mixed tape was. It had been a little touchy issue at first, though, because his dad was never at the rink.
I saw the two women riding their bikes towards me as I walked up the hill. As they got closer, I smiled a little, because that’s what you do, especially when you’re on a campus. You’re a part of the team. You may not know everybody personally, but you know somebody who knows somebody who knows them.
Just as they were about to pass me, the following three things went through my head:
I keep losing things. I’ve always been one of those people that are always looking for their keys, their wallet, their pens, watches, or a magazine they just had in their hand but now seem to have misplaced somewhere.
As a kid, I had the home key in a hockey skate lace around my neck, and still managed to leave it at home often enough to become friends with the scary Mrs Hellgren who had the master key. Once I lost my wallet at my uncle’s place, must have dropped it on their yard somewhere, and the entire family with my cousins and aunts and uncles had to come out and look for it. After hours of search, we gave up, but the next morning, my aunt found it in a bush. How it had gotten there, I have no idea.
“Sir?” said the man.
I laughed. “Sir?” I repeated, looking at my wife, and lifted my old Oakland A’s hat, as if it were a top hat. A move straight out of an old movie. She laughed, too. And when she laughed, I laughed, because she was my wife, and we had been married for just 22 hours.
The other day, a friend of mine laughed when he told me about a hockey player who wore number 99. He thought it was sacrilege. Since nobody can be Gretzky, nobody anywhere should wear that number, he said.
Dad was proud. He was beaming in the back, but I knew he really wanted to rush to the front, get on the stage and tell the world I was his son. And, it’s not that he was afraid to do that, it’s just that he didn’t enjoy that kind of attention. I knew that he knew that I knew, if you know what I mean.
Now, had I shat in my pants during my show, had I lost a brick or something, I know he would have been the first one up there to help me, and he would have completely ignored the rest of the world. That’s what Dads do, I suppose.
“Quick, quick,” Wife yelled, opening the front door for me. I grabbed my iPod off the kitchen counter and ran outside.
“Go get ‘em,” I heard her shout behind me, but by then, I was already a good 30 meters outside the house, running towards the garage, adjusting my black leather bag that kept hitting me in the rear end. Our car was parked outside the garage complex, where eight families kept their cars mostly second cars, parked. Most of the tiny garages were used as storage space and so filled with junk that the cars were always outside.
I jumped inside – I had already parked it so that I could just get in and drive – and made a quick left, then another quick left, then a quick U-turn and then an even quicker parallel parking trick, to claim the only empty spot on the street – right outside our house.
I saw Wife standing by the window, giving me a thumbs-up. I smiled back, and flashed the famous Churchillian victory sign. When I got back in, we high-fived each other.
In hindsight, it was obvious. The unwillingness to admit a mistake and the bossy attitude were there. He even had that certain look, that posture, the quick step in his walk, and the majestic jaw – a “Disney jaw” his old school nurse had called it, the same one who always said he’d grow up to be Somebody.