Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Tale for Hockey Advent: Un abominable chandail d'or sur la glace

Flin Flon, Manitoba, there's not an iota of rightness of hue
Your five-buck currency I must say fervently
Is the wrong shade of blue (not Pantone 282).

The winters of my childhood were long seasons, but getting shorter each year. We lived in three places - the school, Panchero's, and the skating-rink - but our real life was on the skating-rink. Tremendous battles were won on the skating-rink. Tremendous strength appeared on the skating-rink. The leaders and best showed themselves on the skating-rink. School was a sort of punishment. Politicians always want to punish children and evaluating teachers based on standardized tests is their most natural way of punishing us. However, school was also a quiet place where we could prepare for the next hockey game, lay out our next strategies. As for Panchero's, we found there the piquancy of Cholula: there we forgot the school tests and dreamed about the next hockey game. Through our daydreams it might happen that we would recite a prayer: we would ask Bo to help us play as well as Carl Hagelin.

We all wore the same uniform as he once had, the maize and blue uniform of the Michigan Wolverines, the best college hockey team in the world; we all combed our hair and grew it long in the same style as Carl Hagelin, and to keep it in place we used Axe - a great deal of Axe. We laced our skates like Carl Hagelin, we taped our sticks like Carl Hagelin. We posted all his highlights on our Facebook timelines. Truly, we knew everything about him, as we all followed his Twitter feed.

On the ice, when the referee blew his whistle the two teams would rush at the puck; we were five Carl Hagelins taking it away from five other Carl Hagelins, with two Shawn Hunwicks guarding the nets; we were twelve players, all of us wearing with the same blazing enthusiasm the uniform of the Michigan Wolverines. On our backs, we all wore the famous number 12, but for the two goalies, who wore the famous number 31.


One day, my Michigan Wolverines sweater had become too small; then it got torn and had holes in it. My mother said, "If you wear that old sweater people are going to think we're Wal-Mart Wolverines!" Then she did what she did whenever we needed new clothes. She opened her laptop and browsed the apparel section of the Amazon.com website. My mother was proud. She didn't want to buy replica jerseys from Marshall's or T.J. Maxx; the only jerseys that were good enough for us were the authentic styles from Amazon.com. My mother didn't like the one-click ordering feature on the site; the contract was written in legalese and she didn't understand a word of it. To order my hockey sweater, she did as she usually did; she clicked on the box for special instructions and typed in her professional schoolteacher's cadence: "Dear Mr. Bezos: Would you be kind enough to send me a Wolverines' sweater for my son who is ten years old and a little too tall for his age and Doctor Robitaille thinks he's a little too thin? I'm sending you my credit card information and please send me a notice if Visa reports any problems. I hope there will be less unnecessary packaging than last time."

Mr. Bezos was quick to answer my mother's request. Five to nine business days later we received the sweater. That day I had one of the greatest disappointments of my life! I would even say that on that day I experienced a very great sorrow. Instead of the maize and blue Michigan Wolverines sweater, Mr. Bezos had sent us a blue and gold sweater with the word "Irish" on the front - the sweater of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I'd always worn the maize and blue Michigan Wolverines sweater; all my friends wore the maize and blue Michigan Wolverines sweater; never had anyone in Northville ever worn the Notre Dame sweater, never had we even seen a Notre Dame Fighting Irish sweater. Besides, the Notre Dame team was regularly trounced by the victorious valiant Wolverines. With tears in my eyes, I found the strength to say:

"I'll never wear that uniform."

"My boy, first you're going to try it on! If you make up your mind about things before you try, my boy, you won't go very far in this life."

My mother had pulled the blue and gold Notre Dame Fighting Irish sweater over my shoulders and already my arms were inside the sleeves. She pulled the sweater down and carefully smoothed all the creases in the abominable text where, right in the middle of my chest, was written the word "Irish." I wept.

"I'll never wear it."

"Why not? This sweater fits you...like a glove."

"Carl Hagelin would never put it on his back."

"You aren't Carl Hagelin. Anyway, it isn't what's on your back that counts, it's what you've got inside your head."

"You'll never put it in my head to wear a Notre Dame Fighting Irish sweater."

My mother sighed in despair and explained to me:

"If you don't keep this sweater which fits you perfectly I'll have to explain your father that you don't want to wear the Notre Dame sweater. Your father's side of the family is Irish; they'll be insulted because they like the Fighting Irish. And if they're insulted do you think they'll be in a hurry to get you presents next Hockey Christmas? Spring will be here and you won't have played a single game, just because you didn't want to wear that perfectly nice gold sweater."

So I was obliged to wear the Fighting Irish sweater. When I arrived at the rink, all the Carl Hagelins and Shawn Hunwicks in maize and blue came up, one by one, to take a look. When the referee blew his whistle I went to take my usual position. The captain came and warned me I'd be better to stay on the forward line. A few minutes later the second line was called; I jumped onto the ice. The Fighting Irish sweater weighed on my shoulders like a mountain. The captain came and told me to wait; he'd need me later, on defense. By the third period I still hadn't played; one of the defensemen was hit in the nose with a stick and it was bleeding. I jumped on the ice: my moment had come! The referee blew his whistle; he gave me a penalty. He claimed I'd jumped on the ice when there were already five players. That was too much! It was unfair! It was persecution! It was because of my gold sweater! I struck my stick against the ice so hard it broke. Relieved, I bent down to pick up the debris. As I straighted up I saw the young referee, a part-time Panchero's employee, on skates, before me.

"Young man," he said, "just because you're wearing a new Notre Dame Fighting Irish sweater unlike the others - whose sweaters are mismatched ever-changing shades of maize and blue - it doesn't mean you're going to make the laws around here. A proper young man doesn't lose his temper. Now take off your skates and go talk things over with your dad. His love of Panchero's is well-documented throughout Detroit's western suburbs - I'm sure he's one punch away from a free burrito."

Wearing my Fighting Irish sweater I went with my father to Panchero's, where I prayed to Bo; I asked him to send, as quickly as possible, a cracked Cholula bottle that would break and spill sauce everywhere, permanently staining my Notre Dame Fighting Irish sweater.

(Clearly based on Roch Carrier's "Une abominable feuille d'√©rable sur la glace." Specifically, the English translation by Sheila Fischman, © 1979 House of Anansi.)

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