the hockey diaries

Tuesday, October 3, 2006, at about 8:50 p.m.

Should the 57-year-old geriatric have taken up shuffleboard instead?

            I’m standing, unsteadily, on what seem like dull rounded-bottom ice skates*, wearing what could be 25 pounds of padding.  My view of the surroundings is impaired by a helmet which is not fitting very well.  I have to hold up the bottom with one hand so I can see out through the metal-wire face guard.  People, big fast athletic men**, are skating my way, intending to whip hard rubber hockey pucks right at me.

            Remember the first STAR WARS movie, where Luke wears an opaque face-mask as he learns to use the force to protect himself against a floating taser-zapper ball?  Picture Luke, light saber in hand, Obie Wan perplexedly nearby, as he has no idea where the annoying zapping floating ball is.

It could be argued as to whether-or-not my doing this was a conscious decision.  More probably, it was a semi- or sub-conscious decision.  My life had been getting more and more boring.  Many (most?) nights I fell asleep in front of the teevee — “drooling in my beer.”

Since high school I had infrequently played hockey, on ponds, with family and friends.  Nothing organized.  Nothing which would warrant full body padding and helmets.  However, if anyone asked me what my long-term ultimate athletic ambition was — sometimes I would tell them that I planned to be on the U.S.A. over-65 age group national ice-hockey team.  THAT seemed a long time in the future, plenty of time to stay in shape, perhaps re-learn to skate starting at 60 or so.

Time passes, it creeps, one day you wake up and it’s no longer the 1990’s.  And — NO — I’m not planning on trying out for any national old men’s age-group team, because I’m fairly sure that there is no such thing.  However …

River City never had a year-round ice arena until about three months ago.  Betty wanted to go check it out right when it opened.  It was about 106 degrees that day — not unfortunate for the Glacier Ice Arena.  It was packed.  Party atmosphere.

I’m not sure why, but I went back a few times.  Partly to inquire about “open skating” schedules, as Betty occasionally verbalized a desire to go skate.  And — there was a personal reason.

I thought that there couldn’t be THAT much interest in ice-skating in a town which never had access to ‘permanent ice’ (without having to travel 100 or so miles).  If ever I was to get into a league, play the game at the “ground level,” this would probably be the last opportunity.

I was surprised.  The sign-up board for hockey was filled to 6 or 7 pages, and the likelihood of easily getting on an entry-level team seemed, well, not only inconvenient, but expensive, and perhaps combative as well.  The fee for players was about $200 per season, but “goalies play free.”   (Note to self:  Should I have spent some time wondering WHY goalies were free?)  I submitted an application.

I worried a little.  A couple weeks went by.  Oh well, I hadn’t heard anything back from the rink, and if I did end up on a team I’d get on the task of equipment-acquisition right away.

Eight days before my first game, but the day before what could have been the first game, the hockey director from the rink called me.  “Your first game is tomorrow night.  You’re on the Bombers,” Curt said.  I was stunned.  I expected more advance notice.  Also, apparently they did NOT have enough goalies for all the teams.

“I can’t make it,” I said.  “I have an appointment tomorrow night.”  That was true.  But what I didn’t know was that the games started late — I could have gone to my meeting and then the game.  It was just as well.  I needed more time for this to sink in, and to prepare.  Maybe ‘preparation’ meant coming to terms with my fate.  I then found out that the arena would loan most the goalie equipment, also for free.  I already had skates, but had to buy a helmet.

 I could buy an ice-hockey goalie helmet for about $250 or an inline-hockey goalie helmet for $50.  Even if ice-hockey helmets were available without having to wait a couple weeks to be shipped, I would have been a cheapskate anyway.  Pun intended.  I found a helmet which fit.  I wriggled on my glasses inside the thing, and I shook my head a few times.

What I should have done with the helmet on was to jump about erratically, fall to the floor a few times, bump into the walls.  And see what it was like when I began to sweat a lot.  But I didn’t.  As I put the helmet on game night, I noticed a warning sticker:  “NOT INTENDED FOR USE IN ICE-HOCKEY.  Helmet is intended for use in games with inline hockey balls, but not ice-hockey pucks.”

Oh great.  Perhaps a referee would disqualify the helmet, and me, from the game due to unsafe equipment.  But no… I asked an official if the helmet was okay and he looked at me as if that was a silly question.  But what I really wanted to know, was … would the helmet pass the puck-in-the-face test?

After about 3 minutes into the first period, I asked a nearby ref if we could stop so I could get the helmet to fit (I had already taken off my glasses, which were not staying put.  This was due to excessive sweat and the helmet slipping around).  Jeremy (who had already assisted me in the locker room with the unfamiliar leggings and chest protector) pulled and yanked at the 5 straps until the darned sweatbox fit much more snugly.  (It still slipped a little).

Partway into the second period, I was facing what had become a familiar sight — this time just one (often there were two) enemy skater(s) bearing down on me without any of my team-mates in sight.  I rushed out to deflect the shot, sort of diving/falling down in front of him.  For the briefest of a split second I remember seeing the puck going right for my eyes.  A second or two later, I was aware of the puck deflecting wide from the goal.  I was pleasantly surprised — oh joy and serendipity — the protective grating over my face would deflect a direct shot!

I watched my team the previous week, after my earlier meeting.  They used a goalie from one of the more advanced leagues, and were “having their way” with the other team.  This week was different.  We were playing a team bumped down from the B league so the novice league would have more teams.  The team had three players from the local college team!  The Bombers didn’t expect to win, in fact, the pre-game talk in the locker room focused on how to minimize the damage.  Something called “icing” was to be used — a lot.

Therefore, I think we were loose — we were there just to play, and amazingly, played a bit closer than anyone might have expected.  Final score:  12 – 7.  (One of the closest games the “Freeze” has had in our league.)

Oh!  One last word (or, few paragraphs).  When I arrived at the ice arena, an acquaintance was walking in the door just ahead of me.  “Hey, Dave” I said. “What are you doing here?”

I asked that because I remembered him telling me he played in one of the more ‘advanced’ leagues.  “Oh, I’m not here to play.  My daughter’s playing tonight.”

She was out of sight, presumably in a locker room getting ready.  Dave told me she was sixteen, and … “she usually plays out on the ice, offense, defense … but this is the first time she’s played goalie.”

*They were.  I had them sharpened before the next game.

                **During the post-game mid-rink hand-shake, I noted that at least one more opposing player was a young woman.

GAME TWO (the hockey diaries):  Betty goes and watches.  Betty is NOT ‘supportive.’  The next day I announce to her that I’m emailing the kids, telling them how mean their mom is.  She doesn’t contest nor question ‘the mean’ — just curious which category of ‘mean’ I’m telling them about.

So I tell her (and them):  I’d like to think that if I attended some function she was doing, no matter what it was, I’d try to focus on something positive if asked to comment.  At our “advanced old age,” I should focus on how neat, how adventurous, that she would take up something new.  If she sucked at it, well, see the comment on “how brave, especially at your age…”

Does she focus on that?  I KNOW I sucked.  And she reminds me, as soon as I emerge (last, and late, as it takes a bunch of time to get all that stuff OFF) from the locker room:

“You sucked!  I’m surprised your team doesn’t get rid of you.”

Goals allowed average:  15.  Shots stopped? I KNOW I stopped many more shots than goals in the first game, but in the second game it might have been about 50%.  Highlight of the game (for me) was stopping a penalty shot.  I don’t know who on my team did what (a team-mate was lying on the puck, I think).  Jeremy instructed me to rush the attacker as soon as the whistle sounded.  However, I waited a few seconds to see if he would zig, or zag, or whatever.  He started slowly right at me, so then I rushed right at him.  Nothing elaborate on my part, I just smashed into him.  Betty said she was surprised they didn’t call a penalty on THAT.  His shot attempt was snuffed, and he congratulated me.  Cheering from my bench.  One of a very few bright spots for the team this game.

GAME THREE (the … diaries):  Something happened which I had not experienced as a soccer goalie in two years of collegiate intramurals and one year on an adult coed team.  We won!  Of course, with me in goal the game was closer than it could have been.  Perhaps my soccer team nickname, “The Sieve,” would become a moniker of the past.  (Yeah, right).

The helmet wasn’t the only piece of equipment I purchased.  It was also strongly recommended to acquire a “protective cup.”  Though I rankled somewhat about paying $30 for shorts with the cup, a direct shot to “that area” was stopped, and I hardly felt it.  This was during the pre-game warm-up.

Goals allowed average:  approaching 10!  16 shots stopped, 2 goals allowed.

GAME FOUR:  the “Freeze” again.  We played them much closer than during my initial game.   And … attitude-wise, this was different than the previous games.  The over-riding feelings of fear and apprehension I had come to regard as normal were gradually replaced by, yes, looking forward to and anticipating the next attack.

Sometime the previous week I had a dream about one aspect of my “preparation” for the games.  Even before the first game I joked that I had a choice — go skating a few times OR drink to the point of becoming borderline “impaired.”  Yes, I could have done both, or neither, but I chose to arrive slightly sedated.

My BAC was in the neighborhood of 0.05 for three of the games so far.  Only the second game, where I felt I performed the poorest, did I not “prepare” in advance.  So, the dream.  I cannot NOW remember any details, just that the dream indicated that drinking was an aid to this endeavor.  I am such a poster-child for drug-free America, eh?

Goals allowed average:  getting closer to ten.  26 shots stopped, 9 goals allowed.

Either before this or the previous game — as the starting buzzer sounded a thought popped up.  “Oh darn,” the internal voice rankled.  “You have to PAY ATTENTION, FOCUS, for the next hour.”  Yeah, I’ve been experiencing more and more D O A H A D D (delayed-onset adult hyper attention deficit disorder) and my lazy mental inner voice expressed chagrin at the difficult task at hand.  Pay attention, focus, do not wander, watch, be ready, don’t wander off, stay put.  It would be easier if I could see…

GAME FIVE:  back to normal again.  “The Sieve” is probably here to stay.  Being slightly sloshy did not make a difference.  I should NOT have kept track of shots stopped, as more pucks went in than were stopped.  Picture me standing, no, leaning against the side (the outside) of the goal, friendlily waving the shots in…

GAME SIX:  something different, and not just minor stuff, seems to happen each game.  For the first time in “my” five losses, I blame the rest of the team, not me.  Consider:  after the first period, the score was 6 – 3, our favor.  “You do the math.”  If both teams play anywhere consistently, the end score should be:  US, a bunch of goals; THEM, somewhat less than a bunch.  The end score was 8 – 7.  We didn’t even score when the other team had two guys in the penalty box at the same time!

Irregardless of whether or not I think the rest of team lost this one, they continued to have plenty of advice for me.  One good suggestion was from John, whom I regard as the team captain.  He told me to keep my left hand (the “catcher’s mitt”/glove) OUT and away from my body, so as to present more surface area to incoming shots.  Not a bad idea, as I had previously been covering my crotch with the glove.

My … um, visual impairment, which I had hoped had not been too obvious, must have been becoming more apparent.  Perhaps some of them noticed that occasionally I would be concentrating on an attacking player whom I thought had the puck when the player who actually did have it was coming from another direction.  More than one teammate suggested that I somehow try to fit glasses, or contacts, or do the laser treatment.  Yes, even Betty noted that it seemed frequently I had no idea where the puck was.  Darn.

John, and at least one other suggested that I either show up for “open hockey practices” and/or watch hockey on tee-vee.  Why bother?  I figure I’m getting plenty of practice as is, I’m not going to watch hockey on tee-vee, and the pictures I see in the paper of goalies invariably show them in contortionist positions or lying at the bottom of a heap of players.

Yes, I’ve quit trying to keep track of statistics…

GAME SEVEN:  Betty watches again.  Apparently, the range is “suckiness” is fairly wide, as she proclaimed that I still sucked, but nowhere near as badly as during the first game she endured.

The team practiced fast and high slap-shots at me before the game, which was a portend of real game conditions.  During the second period, I, um, ‘stopped’ a shot in the cup area.  Good thing that the cup was there, because I definitely would have been too hurt to do anything for a long time.  As it was, I cussed out loud a bit and did little more than just stand there for the next few minutes.  (I suspect the team and anyone else who is watching thinks that is what I do pretty much all the time, anyway).  Two days after the game, there is a red puck-shaped bruise inches from the, um, target area.  (Two weeks after, there is still a pronounced circular ‘birth mark.’)  And the third period — another stopped shot found it’s way between the bottom of the helmet and the top of the chest/shoulder pads.  Ouch — the right collarbone.  I was even more nauseous after that one.

However, I think I’ve adopted a habit which seems to work whenever there is a melee nearby.  I started doing this the last half of the game.  After allowing two or three sloppy shots skidding right on the ice to go into the goal between my feet, I finally heeded some teammate’s admonitions to drop to my knees.  “Drop down.”  “Fall on it.”  And so, anytime there was a frantic scrambling crowd anywhere near the goal, I’d drop down on my knees, shuffling about like a legless man on a cart, and THAT often ‘did the trick.’

And, THAT is perhaps the most surprising thing, “at my old age,” about this hockey-goalie thing.  At home, doing yard work, sometimes during a hike, it seems that I can’t do much in the way of bending over, kneeling down, etc.  It’s gotten so that when I’m emptying the clothes dryer and an item falls to the floor, I’ll wait until I’m done because something else often will fall, and I have only so many ‘bend over’s’ in me.  But — during my 7-game hockey career — I now don’t even think (much) about falling down, laying down, dropping down, throwing my body on the ice, and getting back up.  I get up relatively quickly, often in time to do it all over again a half-minute later.  However, back home, emptying the dryer the next day, it’s the same old conservation of altitude…

There is no way my goals-allowed average will drop to less than ten — this season.  I can only hope (and, yes, I think it’s true — ) that I stop at least 2/3’s of all shots.  Yes, you’re right — many of those stopped shots are done simply by me standing there.  But (of course) I’ll act like I meant it.

GAME EIGHT:  I was on vacation the previous week and the team acquired a substitute goalie.  I had mentioned missing the next game to them after my last game and they immediately began to talk about who they might get.  Turns out someone knew a goalie from Montrose, a quite good one at that.  They shut out the poor Firefighters 9 – 0.  I bet they used at least another ‘ringer’ or two besides.  During my only win, so far, there were at least two players drafted for the occasion from the ‘B’ league.

When I arrived at the rink on game night I chatted with Curt, who opened the equipment room for me before each game so I could borrow the leg-pads, shoulder/chest pads, gloves, and stick.  I sensed a note of disdain in his voice when he answered my inquiry about my team’s goalie the previous week.  “Yeah, they brought in the San Juan team goalie.  He’s of “A” league caliber.”  If I correctly sensed disdain, it was due to Curt’s desire for, basically, novice teams to be mostly novice.

I also bumped into Jacoba, one of two women on our team.  She’s married to Nick, and they regularly come down from Rifle.  Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I felt that Nick was somewhat friendly when I first met him.  Before the following and subsequent games, whenever I would come into the locker room Nick would look at me with a mixture of disgust and disbelief.  Disbelief that it was I who showed up and not someone else.  Anyhow, I was still in street clothes and I quipped, “you guys sure played a good game last week,”

She brightened.  “Yeah, it’d be neat if we could always have that goalie.”

I smiled back.  She didn’t recognize me, and if I were her, or anybody else on the team, I’d want a much better goalie.

We were playing the Firefighters again, and I was nervous, possibly more so than usual.  If we lost, obviously it’d be MY FAULT.  Also, due to the convoluted novice-league records and standings, if we lost we’d be tied with the Firefighters for last place, whereas if we won, we’d be tied for 2nd (it’s a 4-team league).  Trivial details.

We were ahead for most the game.  Fortunately (?) I’ve forgotten most the details until the 3rd period.  We were up 3 – 2.  Then they tied it.  With two minutes remaining they scored another.  This is the only team in the league which has a dedicated following.  Usually, there are a couple dozen or more fans — family members and other fire-personnel.  There was excitement and an anticipatory buzz from the stands.  Their team called a time-out with less than two minutes remaining.  I disconsolately skated over to our box.  No-one said anything to me, just a comment or two among themselves — “Let’s get a goal and tie this up.”

Unlike the game where I felt I didn’t lose — the rest of the team did — this game was the reverse.  The Bombers scored THREE GOALS in that final 1:30.  One was called back, another player in the crease or something like that.  Still, a 5 – 4 nail biter.  Gave the people in the stands a thrilling conclusion (too bad most of them were rooting for the other team).  Jacoba and Nick came up and congratulated me.  I had the feeling that they’d recently attended a “be kind to senior citizens” seminar.

GAME NINE: (the post-season play-offs):  For a few weeks, and a few games, I had been considering something really radical.  Improve my vision.  I had gone to a glasses store and asked for ‘rec-specs’ — something which might fit in the helmet AND not slip nor fall off.  Now that I think about it, they would probably steam up.  So …

I got contacts.  Forty-five years of wearing glasses and avoiding the alternative.  I’m somewhat surprised how quickly I was able to get some.  I wore them home from the eye-doctor’s, then took them out when I got home.  No sense in too much too soon.  However, I put them in before leaving for the game.

On the way to the arena, a policeman pulled me over for going 16 over the limit and running a red light.  Good thing I hid the open beer bottle.  I didn’t even have to do much pretending — a somewhat distracted borderline senior citizen en route to a rendezvous with probably overwhelming circumstances.  No ticket, just a warning … “Good luck,” he said.  “Watch your speed and those stop lights.”

Oh yeah, the Firefighters — AGAIN.  Of course I was apprehensive.  Improved vision might not make a difference.  And the other team would be hungry — they came so close last time.  And … we were missing a few players.  That wasn’t unusual, but what made me (and, I suspect, the rest of the team) feel doomed was the absence of Jeremy, our best regular* player.  Blood in the water …

Larry, the only guy on the team I knew from my prior existence, had a son in high school.  Tanner regularly played in the high-school league but had played for us before.  There are several people who can’t get “enough” hockey and play in more than one league, on more than one team, AND are available as substitutes for other teams.  Jeremy and another team member also play in a B league team.  Anyway, there was little doubt among most of the team that Tanner saved our lives.  An explanation, of course, is in order …

The league officials decided that the playoffs should include only the three “real” novice league teams.  The in-house team, the Freeze, which had won all ten regular season games by comfortable margins, was excluded.  After all, they were supposed to be in the upper leagues.  The three remaining teams had similar records.  We regularly outscored the Firefighters.  They beat the Rovers two out of three times.  And the Rovers won our three games with them.  However, they had the best statistics of the three teams.  The winner of tonight’s playoff would get a break and play for the championship the following week.  The loser of this game would have to play the Rovers immediately after the game.  Whoever lost, would be too tired to do well in a second game.  No wonder the sense of dread and doom was palpable in the locker room.  If we lost, well, if we didn’t actually die, it would seem like it.  And so Tanner saved our lives.

During the pre-game warm-ups I could actually SEE.  For the first time, I was able to use the left, the “catcher’s mitt” glove to try to catch pucks.  Seeing helped me resist the impulse to use that hand to cover the crotchal area.  I could see what the other goalie was doing.  Previously, I could tell approximately where the goalie was, if he (or she) was flat on the ice, but little else.

We were on the offensive right from the start.  Actually, we are a good first-period team.  If all our games ended before the second period, we would have won a few more games (we were actually ahead of the Freeze early in the 2nd period  one game, and ahead of the Rovers twice).  I think I deflected three shots on goal when the period ended.  The score was 0 – 0 with perhaps 75% or more of the game played at their end.  We were up 3 – 0 after two periods, and I had a little more action.

During the final period, I was wishing time would speed up.  “One minute down fourteen to go” I said to myself.  “Three minutes gone, twelve to go.”  At about 10:00 they scored a goal, followed a couple minutes later by another.  And then we fouled twice.  Two guys in the penalty box at the same time.  Although I feel that I am “dug in” most the time, this time we really did.  The five of them gathered expectantly around our three for the puck drop.

A bit of frenzied scrambling, some swats at the puck, and Tanner was off on a solo break towards the other goalie.  Though his goal attempt was deflected, I could feel the other team become more wary.  The pressure was off, slightly.  Somehow we held our own for that two minutes, and with about two minutes to go the other team’s “big guy” was whistled for knocking Tanner to the ice.  I was relieved but not about to let my guard down.

With less than ten seconds remaining the battle is on near my goal.  I remember Tanner swatting the puck up-ice with 6 seconds on the clock and time ran out.  Nick started to hoist me up on his shoulder, expecting another or two to join him.  No-one else seemed so inclined, so he just bounced me off the wall a few times.  One teammate asked if I had been watching goalie instructional videos, and another said he thought I was much improved.  “I can SEE,” I said.

*By ‘regular’ I mean actually on the team roster.  I don’t think the Bombers had played a game yet without an upper division ‘ringer.’  The previous week, for example, we had Jeremy’s future brother-in-law, a smooth precise sharp-skating Ontario resident.

Post Script:  (finals of the play-offs):  my gift to the team was not to be there.  They acquired the 17-year-old son of the premier team’s goalie.  And they won, 9 – 2.  So, seeing as how I was the regular team goalie, playing in nine of twelve games, I am a league champ too.

I would have liked to have played, but my employer had a meeting in Denver the morning after the game.  It would have been darned inconvenient to play and then get to Denver by 8:30 a.m.  I’d like to think we would have still won, but the score would have been more like 9 – 6.

“cancer in the penalty box” & other unrelated essays

hockey diaries, part IV:  CANCER IN THE PENALTY BOX

      the team dynamic was changed.

whereas previously i was a mostly-extraneous member, i became the poster-child for the “make a wish foundation” once the news spread.  (yes, i know, things will be back to normal sooner rather than later, where extraneousness and milling about in the background will again be my place on the team).

i knew “i was in trouble” when Dave, the one team member whom i count on to be rude and insensitive confronted me when i left the locker room.  he stood directly in front of me, my back to the wall.  he looked right into my eyes and asked, “are you all right?”

shit,” i thought.  he knows.

he acted concerned and continued to act that way ever since.  i think there were two games remaining until i “went under the knife” — and my very last game the team captains acquiesced to all (‘all’ being about 3) my wishes and demands.  “i want to be right wing” (not left, which i’d have to share with Lloyd, the time-hog).  “i want to be on a line with Tucker.”  and i spent about as much time as anybody else on the ice.   and, astonishingly? we won that game, against the first-place team in our league.

afterwards, the team presented me with a … going-away/get well/pain-killer-medicine gift.  a bottle of single-malt scotch whiskey.  we clicked our beer-bottles, they wished me well.

i also got to play goalie twice during the wednesday night “dave ash league” — which is a casual pick-up game.  nothing casual about it, though — it seems most the players are upper-division but not out to kill anybody.  never-the-less, i had fun and look forward to trying to continue to do THAT perhaps a couple times a month.  cheap, too! (a little more than $10/game).

one month to the day after the operation, i ‘celebrated’ by getting back on the ice.  i sent a mass-email to the team (as if they gave a poop) announcing that i’d show up, skate about during warm-up, and asked to play just one minute per period.  this was because my team was to play the one team which, the last two games, just barely outplayed/out-scored us.  i knew the team would want to utilize the ‘better’ players more than, say, team-members of my (lack of) ability.

there was a bit of the “welcome back” syndrome in the locker room, but the player who warranted more of that was Miguel, who had been injured for most the season and had just now come back for this game.  and … our bench was sort of short.  Brian, the team captain, ventured that i would probably end up playing much more than one minute per period.

although i felt a bit sluggish (as usual) when we started warming up, things were not much different than the norm.  oh, i was a little more wobbly and clumsy, but irregardless of whatever happens the rest of my life, without resorting to performance-enhancing steroids and bionic surgery, i will definitely NOT ever be considered adept enough to play in the “upper” leagues.

i played every other shift the entire game, and didn’t dwell on my condition, much.  although i was slightly apprehensive, even being knocked down towards the end of the game, bumping into a couple others a few times, i felt and skated pretty much as i normally do.  and though we lost, i felt the same afterwards as i almost always do.  it was fun.

there was a fair amount of “chippiness” during the game — contact which was not inadvertent, elbows and such a few times, words exchanged, time in the penalty box, etc.  i was, as is becoming usual, immune from that.  i can’t help but think that the other team leaves me alone, as the sentiment is that i do my team the “most damage” (and assist the opposition) by being out on the ice.  oh well.

flashback, to … gary snyder (& how i “met him”) telling the most valuable possession of the Papagos; and a song imparted (& lost) in the midst of a bad sickness

             I was a college student at CSU and read in the paper that Gary Snyder was to be part of a panel discussion that night in the Student Center.  This was the sort of thing I could not pass up, and the price was right ($0).

After dinner I shuffled off to the campus and entered the building.  At the main information desk I asked where was the “poetry panel discussion”  and the info-desk-person there did not know.  Another guy (who looked very much like the picture I had just seen in the paper) dropped by.

I knew of him mostly thanks to Jack Kerouac (‘Dharma Bums’) but was aware that he had continued to be ever-more the artist, the word-monger since then.  I didn’t know he would appear to be so … “hippy.”  Counter-culture.  Like me.

I announced to him that I was looking for the room in which Gary Snyder, among others, was to discuss some aspect of poetry.  He replied that he was looking for the room also.

I experienced a surreal twenty minutes or so, as we strode up and down the hallways and stairs, engaged in light conversation — centered mostly about how lost we were.  At least we came to THE ROOM, in which the audience and panel members were waiting.  Since we arrived together, and looked somewhat similar, I’m sure everyone thought that I was “with him.”  I kept that secret to myself as I sat among the audience.

I know I enjoyed the evening’s ‘entertainment,’ but remember little of what was specifically imparted.  Save one thing — Gary talked about a northern Mexico/south Arizona Indian tribe, the Papagoes.  They were not a ‘rich’ tribe, in the sense of possessions nor fertile crop-land nor much else.  What was the most valuable possession to an individual was a song.  I suppose “rich” Papagoes had many songs.

How they acquired a song varied, and the songs would usually come in dreams.  However, to merit/deserve/make oneself worthy of such an impartation a Papagoe would have to do something heroic.  One might hike all the way to the sea and bring back some salt.  Or go beat up on some warriors of another tribe.

When one Indian was real good friends with another, and wanted to make a gift, he’d give his friend a song.

About two years before, Deb and I were vacationing/hanging in Mexico.  We had gone on a prodigious train- and bus-tour from San Carlos to Mexico City.  On our return leg of the journey, we each were beginning to become quite ill.  The flu, probably.  A severe, head-clogging, pain-filled, tedious, foreign flu.

It was so bad that one night around midnight, as I was tossing and turning and occasionally moaning as if that would help, I did an experiment to “pass the time.”  I lay still for as long as I could, trying to sink into sleep, but trying to pass the time never-the-less.  I lay for what seemed to be a couple hours.  I looked at my watch.  Two minutes had passed.

I did sink into a pain-free sleep later that night.  I was in a cave.  I couldn’t see anything, but knew that this was right on the ocean.  I could hear the waves, smell the salt-air.  It was a large cave, and I was not alone.

They were singing — in a language I surmised to be the local indigenous aboriginal tongue.  Several layers of chanting, humming, weaving in and out.  A solo-ist would intone the next line of melody, and the others would join in, point-and-counter-point with increasing layers of background chorus.

I wish I could say that I woke up and the flu was gone.  But I did remember the song for several months.  It seemed sorta “polynesian.”

i guess everything is a “new start.”  new running ‘records’?  new job.

yeah, telemarketer, but not on commission.  well… the commission would be if i actually do acquire/round-up/conjure up some work, i “stay on.”

but still, the maya is closing in, the illusion gets thicker, polar ice caps melt as the ozone spreads; ZPG quite a way off…

The Smelter Mountain Mutants, “old (wild) west” style un-easy stand-off when encountering the Uranium Savages.

             Hallowe’en, 1986 or so, Durango.  I was part of the Dept. of Energy (DOE) radiological characterization crew — to ascertain the contaminatedness of the uranium-mill-tailings pile just outside of town.  We had been in town several days, with many more to go.  Halloween night was rumored to be a ‘big deal’ in downtown Durango.  So, after dinner, we gathered around our trucks and vans and started dressing-up.  Which was easy — we had hazardous-waste suits (Tyvek over-alls), hard hats, thick gloves, some of us wore the gas-mask-like air-filters.  And, each of us had “URANIUM SAVAGES … TRUST US !” scribbled in felt-tip on our backs.

We wandered the streets, hardly distinguishable in the over-all crazy vibe which prevailed.  We turned a corner, and, there they were.  The Smelter Mountain Mutants.  (Smelter Mountain was the place where the old uranium mill was).  They wore more-or-less matching outfits, each with a “moon-crater” mask — looking like moon-craters with the eyes peeking out among the indentations.

It was like the old west middle-of-the-street showdown.  They stood, warily, as a group assessing us; and we them.  After what seemed half-a-minute, each group slowly pulled away — eyes on the other group in case they’d try to get the drop on us, or something.

Captain Jim Fulks.  A nice guy.  He was a friend of my friend, Roy H Johnson, when Roy was still in the Marines.  Capt. Jim was a recruiter, and would make the rounds to the college campuses in the area.  Roy would stop by and visit when they recruited at CSU (I was a student there).

We had a fun afternoon with beer and pizza one day.  Roy called asking me if I would be a “Marine for the day” and run on their cross-country team.  The CSU Army ROTC was sponsoring a “military challenge race,” and Jim and Roy spearheaded the Marine team.  Although it was understood (at least by Roy) that I had no interest whatsoever in “jinin’ up” I was on the team, as well as another similarly-militarily-disinterested friend of mine.

After the race, we went to a pizza place for the requisite beer and.

I would see Capt. Jim periodically, when I was cruising through the Student Center and he’d be at his recruiting table in his dress uniform, brochures and other information, as well as a projector and screen showing jets screaming through the skies in the background.

The last time I saw Jim, I had graduated a short while before but was in the job-hunting mode.  The college arranged for recruiters to talk with prospectives on campus, and I had just ‘interviewed’ with a computer-component manufacturer.

The interview reminded me of a Monty Python sketch — the one about the cheese shop.

you know the one, don’t you?  a fellow walks into a cheese shop, is greeted by the proprietor, and asks if the shop has a specific kind of cheese (let’s just say, “jarlsberg”).

            “no,” the shop-keeper replies.  “just ran out.”

            “how about some muenster?”

            the proprietor looks up, musing.  “it’s Tuesday.  we get it shipped in on Wednesdays.  sorry.”

            “okay, lets have some roquefort then.”

            “we just sold the last bit of that to the last customer.”

            and so the exchange goes, the hungry customer asking for this, and that, and the shopkeeper comes up with some funny “no” replies.  sometimes he just  says “no” — as many as a dozen or so queries in a row.  towards the end of the skit the would-be customer asks for such things as “siberian yak cottage cheese” and other esoterica, and still there is/are none in the shop.

            “this isn’t much of a cheese shop,” the potential customer intones.

            “best in these parts.”

             I don’t remember exactly how the exchanges end, but you get the idea.

And so, the Tektronix (I think was the company name) representative asked me if I had experience in many categories of electronic component design.  After just as many incidences of answering just “no,” I would sometimes pause, consider, then say “none” or “very little,” etc.

I was made to feel like I was looking for a job as a village idiot in a series of villages each of which already had one.

And, obviously, there was extremely little chance Tektronix would arrange a follow-up interview.  I slunk out the door, and down the hall, feeling three-feet tall.  The slunk was in full feeling-worthless mode as I went past Captain Jim.  He was resplendent in his dress reds and blues, sitting ramrod straight, the projector displaying jets napalming Vietnamese villages or something.

I probably nodded “hi” to Jim as I began to walk past.  He asked me how I was.  I turned to him, as I would to a friend, and bared my soul.  I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of how my job search wasn’t going so well.  Now, I expect you, whoever you are, might say what did I expect next?  I did expect it, but I wasn’t worried — I had a couple aces up my sleeve.

“Hey Rosco,” Jim said.  “How about me buyin’ you a beer in the Ramskeller and tellin’ me about it?”

It was the best offer I’d had so far that day.  It would be therapeutic.  Beer, and the opportunity to discuss my situation in the Student Center beer-tavern.  Just like a friendly session with a psychologist … did I mention with beer?

Jim turned off the projector.  The Ramskeller was a short distance away and soon we were seated with a pitcher between us.  People at nearby tables initially looked askance at us — a somewhat unlikely duo; although I was wearing a suit, I hadn’t had a haircut in possibly two years.  There isn’t much variety in how a Marine officer dressed-to-impress appears.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before Jim would ask the inevitable.  Up ’til then I mentioned the types of interviews I’d had, and although I don’t remember everything, whatever I really wanted to do, work-wise, probably was not well-identified.

“Rosco, have you ever considered joining the world’s finest?”

“Jim, I can’t.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I’m too old.”

“How old are you?”

I told him that I was twenty-eight.  That age was a year or more over the maximum that the military accepted.  Or so I had recently read.

Jim gave a brief stealth glance at nearby tables.  I took this as a sign that he didn’t want to advertise that the world’s finest would compromise it’s lofty standards.  “Under our ‘older men in good shape program’ we can recruit up to age thirty-five.”

“Is that so?” I replied.  A couple small beads of sweat materialized on my brow, but still I wasn’t worried.  I still had the BIG ACE up my sleeve.

We talked a while longer and a couple minutes later he basically repeated the initial question.

“Jim I can’t.  I’m ineligible.”

“Tell me about it.”

In 1969 the draft was hot and heavy on the minds of all young men.  If you didn’t volunteer, the draft, or successful means to avoid it, was a part of the rites of passage of the era.  Everyone, and by everyone, everyone I knew had either signed up or waited for the summons to the pre-induction physical.

My three friends who were already in the military wrote to all their friends with basically the same message.  “If my going into the military has served any purpose whatsoever, let it be this:  don’t go in.”  I (and everyone remaining) took that to heart.

So, I prepared, studied, psyched myself up, read hindu texts, went without food for three days and water for a day, to get myself in the right mood for my pre-induction experience.

I’ll spare the details, but I passed, I mean flunked that exercise … well, not completely.  I went back for a “follow-up” a few weeks later during which I did even better.  I received a “1Y” deferment, which, at that time, meant “available only in the event of a national emergency.”  This was upgraded a few years later to the “4F,” which meant “totally unacceptable for military service no matter what.”  I had assumed that the 4F was written in stone.  No room for any other interpretation.

Jim casually looked around at the nearby tables, then leaned towards me a little.  “During the height of Viet Nam?  Totally understandable.  We’ll take care of it — no problem.”

More beads of sweat.  I pulled my suit coat back to reveal my wrist, upon which there was no watch.  I announced that I was late to my next appointment, got up, and left.  I haven’t seen him since.

Betunada & the Wombats of the Desert (“old” post — August 2009)

BETUNADA & THE WOMBATS OF THE DESERT

Do YOU ever feel not tired?  Good! (if the answear wuzz yess).  Seems my personal energy-quotient ranges from very very tired to a sort of energy-limbo upon which the shadow from the Tired Tree is soon to be cast.

Sometimes, like a couple Satyrday nights ago, I go out of my way and lock on, acquire, a goodly dose of the fruit of the Tree.  It has been about six months since I pretended to play hockey.  So … the arena had a pick-up game then.  I have been waiting for the first opportunity to actually put on and try out all of my equipment.  Yes, I finally have all (or so I thought * ) of what I need to play goalie — having never worn the “upper” protection out on the ice.  I still needed help getting dressed (could not get the jersey on, and had trouble with practically everything else.  Hey!  It’s been over 6 months since I did this goalie thing).  Also, there was a sort of lame-accomplishment-pioneer (?) aspect –>  I think I’m the first over-60-year-old to be a goalie there.  (Locally, there are more than just a few excellent 60+ year-olds — but they’re “out” on the ice).

*The other goalie who played, one of the local college team’s G-men, said that I should consider acquiring goalie-breezers.  Goalie breezers?!  Well, I didn’t know until I had played a season-&-a-half that there were goalie skates.  And I might eventually get a real ICE-hockey goalie helmet — though the college guy said he’d GIVE me a spare he doesn’t use anymore.  Hmmm…

Next morning it felt like my left heel had a chipped bone, or a bone bruise.  Really painful to walk.  That, coupled with a nagging knot in my right hamstring, plus the congestion from the flu which takes weeks to finally go away, results in pretty much the physical (let’s NOT start in on the mental) mess which is me.  Sorta normal.

And the pick-up game the following week, a college player gave me some breezers.  Much nicer and newer than Tom’s old ones I’d been using.  And this was yet another game with only one other goalie, a fellow who is also trying out for one of three spots on the college team.  He was not as sure as the fellow last week that he’d be on the team, but after the game I tried to assure him that he would be.

Which is to say:  compared to the previous week, my statistics were much worse.  Last week, at one point I had three times more saves than goals allowed (yes, I know, that in the NHL if your GAA is less than 90% you probably would be kicked down into the minors, and THAT’s against NHL players! — but heck, consider there’s ME and a bunch of local NHL wanna-be’s…).  The last week I was lucky to barely have more saves than goals allowed.  The reason is … the local college team was to begin it’s try-outs real soon after this pick-up game, and I think some of the coaches suggested to new/unknown players that they should participate in tonight’s “pick up.”  The coaches sat in the stands, evaluating.

Enough about me.  You?  Are you basically just waiting to grow older and die?  THAT could be the one-sentence summary of where I’m at.  Oh, I’d like to think I actually aspire to various avenues of continuity, but I’m probably just kidding myself.  Results in the same thing.

(Actually, I don’t really dwell on, or believe the previous paragraph.  But it makes for the frolicking, fun-loving, predictable conversation from me that my work-mates and the occasional social contacts have come to expect.)

Wedding day for the son, Tom, until recently seemingly somewhat far off in the future, has popped up bobbing in the waves about a month from our bow.  The daughter, Rachel,  and her guy Benjamin (together are they “the Rachamin” or “Benchel”?) seem to have settled into their present lives — still planning exotic trips and ventures and ad- and mis-ventures, of course.

I had something happen a little a couple weeks ago which was a first:  I don’t think I have ever had a ‘normal’, ‘adult’, open and sincere conversation with any of my youngest brother’s (and his wife’s) kids.  Well, if I personally am capable of the ‘adult’ flavoring of conversation… never-the-less, the youngest of the three encountered Betty and I in the big-box electronics store.  He initiated contact (Betty said she wouldn’t have recognized him) and we ‘caught up’ on stuff for perhaps 20 or so minutes.  Maybe it was 15.  His girlfriend was real pleasant, too.  I think I’ll start referring to him as his real name.  Maybe he inherited some of the non-prevalent genes and aspects of that side of the bush.

Did I?

Should we talk about work? and yes we should, ’cause, as I have probably stated in prior posts, Betty and I would be having a much more interesting life right now had I not, more-or-less (actually “more”) resumed my prior job.  Serendipitous.  Timely.  Oh, someday we’ll intimately KNOW ‘want’ and ‘deprivation’ (other than the deprivations we suffer from and Lord forgive us ’cause we don’t know it!) and ‘real hunger’.  and thirst.  and sadness.  cheap hangovers.  more sadness.  self-pity.  envy.  coveting the neighbor’s ass (wait!  i already do that!).  well, i don’t really WANT any donkeys.  we had one once.  it was okay.

Work actually is interesting, and a continual challenge.  And, after about 5 months, the commute is getting a little bit … tedious.  It’s like I work 10 or 11 hours a day, but it beats the alternative.  Recent local newspaper headlines said that there’s more than 9% unemployment in River City!

I spend a little time on the job checking personal email and thinking about beer.  Not quite like being home, but I get pulled that way real easily.

So what about Betunada’s wombats?  of the desert, no less.  I don’t make ’em as often as I could, but the average is one or two a month.  The Benchel sent a pixure of a New Zealand wombat.  I should have done a wombat in Mexico (¿ is ‘wombat’ ‘wombat’ in español?).  Instead I made a dead guy in the jungle out of rocks, a hat, and two tennis shoes.  Someone (or something) later came by and dis-assembled it.  Picture available upon request (of the pre-dis-assembled dead guy).  I haven’t really said anything about the wombats, have(n’t) I?

The first wombat I “did” was many years ago.  Betty and I had gone cross-country skiing with a few of our ‘mates and after a while we were separated.  B ‘n me were on our way back to the car when I stopped to survey an open gently-sloped expanse on the hillside across from the ridge we were on.  And so … with Betty surveying from the spot where I initially stood, I skied down and across the valley, making a single-track line on the hillside opposite.  I tracked-out the word “WOMBAT” in the snow, and she would shout out what parts of the word needed more legibility.  I skied back out on the initial under-line and we went home.

That night our ‘mates phoned us and I answered saying “wombat.”  I heard a laugh and whoever called apparently turned to others in the room and said “yes, he did it.”

Gus Rilfillan called a week ago, 10 p.m. wednesday nite.  He said he ‘had to’ call as he was about to attend a Freddie MacGregor concert.  He and I and our families listened to F M many years ago at a Sunsplash Tour on the Hopi Reservation.  Gus took pixures of Freddie and I, and Freddie and my daughter.

Encountering a schoolmate of mine on a routine random desert walkabout a couple Sundays ago:  Betty and I responded, so to speak, to an ad in the real estate portion of the paper and drove out south(east) of Palisade to survey a proposed large-acreage development.  Horse Mountain Ranch.  We figured we had to get the dogs out on a ramble, so the proverbial two birds with one stone, or one truck-drive.  The only other party out there was a guy (and his friend) who was a frequent customer at her store, back in her “store days.”  And he graduated from the same h.s. as I, a year earlier.  I remember him as a drummer in the school band.  We talked and reminisced and he drove back down the road while we walked, me limping ‘cause of the suspected heel-bone spur.

Do you ever feel doomed?  Even slightly?  Seems that for me there’s an almost continual undercurrent of that.  Goes against what I’d think would be/should be whatever I should be integrating from reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Oh well…  what does “against the day” mean?