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Goon I Feel You

 

How such gentle names belie the bodies checked into boards.

Like in another context you could say: Here maple leafs fall among islanders, and think I’m talking about vacationing in the Berkshires.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

*

A few years ago, I attended my first hockey game. Four of my husband’s friends came to visit the States from Canada, which means hockey is inevitably involved. Because they plan their trips around hockey games and not just their home team, which is the Toronto Maple Leafs. I find such general team sport dedication fascinating and somewhat terrifying. What spectator-like dedications, I wondered, could have such a hold on me?

They stayed in a hotel not far from our apartment in Queens, and hung out with us at The Kettle, an Irish-owned restaurant my husband and I frequent. Two are named Chris, and after hitting up a string of the Irish pubs from Woodside to Sunnyside, two adjoining neighborhoods along the 7 train, I kept getting them both confused which they found very funny. Because neither answers to Chris, but to nicknames Gaspar and Jasper. Or something like that. To this day, I’m still not sure who is who, and too much time has passed for me to ask. We all stayed out very late, as they told me all sorts of entertaining stories about my then-fiancé. Fortunately for Brian, I’d forget most of these stories because I am a lightweight— two cocktails, and I’m starting to see double. My husband isn’t a heavy drinker. His friends, however, are well over six feet tall and every one of them can drink both of us under the table, and perhaps twice over.

This is exactly what happened the night before the six of us went to a hockey game out on Long Island. We met up with them on Queen’s Boulevard the following cold, cloudy Saturday morning, or perhaps it was a Sunday. I was feeling quite sick and light-headed, so naturally I talked everyone into walking thirty or so blocks to another Irish pub called the Cuckoo’s Nest, which in all fairness, serves an excellent brunch in a lovely, dark space unobtrusive to hangovers— all under a rotating disco ball. (Well, it isn’t always rotating.) The only windows are in the very front, and sometimes even those windows are covered, so with its low lighting and sometimes-rotating disco ball, the atmosphere is oddly reminiscent of those restaurants that turn into discotheques at night. It’s been a long time since I went clubbing, although when living in Jerusalem, I’d head to Tel Aviv some weekend to hit up the three-story 58 on Allenby, as well as The Golem, and one night in particular I ended up at a cabaret show at Tzavta with a much older woman who’d whispered to me: You sleep standing up and call it dancing. And I’d never found out what she meant by that, because we’d never gone dancing together, and how that had offended me, so I’d told her I was going to use the bathroom and left, walking west toward the Marina, wondering if it was true that Avraham Shlonski, a famous Israeli poet, had founded Tzavta, as the woman had told me when I told her I was a poet.

Years later, in the dark recess of a long table they’d put together for the six of us, I was googling this on my phone in The Cuckoo’s Nest and found it to be true, and really there’s no room for dancing at The Cuckoo’s Nest because there are rows and rows of nice tables, some with very roomy club chairs. And it’s a family place, usually filled with children who always seem to order the fish and chips. I always order the fish and chips too. And it’s here that my friend Robin and I watched the World Cup on a warm summer day, or tried to anyway, our view being perfect, our club chairs roomy and comfortable, as if we were in a private library of someone’s home only with a lot of people screaming at the televisions— oh, there’s more than one— and for the love of sweet Jesus, someone kept screaming, why waste one of the sets on a game of cricket? Or maybe it a local broadcast of the neighborhood little leagues playing. Or it might have been reruns of Night Court.

But I digress.

And what I really want to talk about is the hockey game.

While we were having a lovely brunch, in which Jasper and Gaspar, as well as Mark and Matt (also not their real names) were attending to their hangovers with the Hair of the Dog and then another along with The Big Breakfast, which came with eggs, sausage, bacon, blood pudding, vegetables, toast and somewhat mournful commentary that they felt too full just looking at their plates, we missed our train. It’s hard to keep track of time in a place like the Cuckoo’s Nest, especially on a cold, gloomy day. Or maybe it’s because I ordered the fish and chips when I was feeling sick and couldn’t eat any of it, so I made the five of them eat what I ordered, not wanting to shove leftovers of fried food in my purse to bring inside a hockey arena. No one was really talking during the meal, and in retrospect, having just met these four high school friends of my husband, friends that would later attend both our Chinese wedding ceremony in Toronto and the following Jewish Orthodox ceremony on South Padre Island which was almost completely in Hebrew and attended by my non-Hebrew-speaking friends and my non-Hebrew-speaking Mexican family, that it broke my heart and my father’s too that none of his family attended, that our Jewish family did not approve and had plenty to say about that and still do, that I could sit in silence with my husband and some of his closest friends after hitting it off the night before, having just met each other for the first time, it was quite something that we could just sit at a table and feel nauseous and tired together, without needing to speak so much, as one might feel obligated to, without the rules of first impressions and small talk and obligated gestures.

When we realized we missed the train, and the next one wouldn’t get us to Long Island in time for the game, I arose (albeit shakily) to action. The Islanders, after all, were playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his friends, after all, were from Toronto, and I wasn’t about to let them miss that. And before there was Uber and Lyft, there was Caprice. And Caprice would get you where you wanted, whenever you wanted, for a reasonable price and Caprice knew me. The dispatcher found us a car large enough to fit the six of us, and as they gulped down the last of their beers, we were out in the clouded sunlight, shielding our eyes, because that’s just how wonderfully forgiving and strange a morning layover in The Cuckoo’s Nest can be, like soothing candlelight in the middle of the day, and we were finally ready.

*

We finally arrive.

We arrive in the hour in which the blood is still benched.

Even though we get to the arena somewhat late, and stop at concessions for beers for them and water for my husband and me before finding our seats, the game has not yet started. Jasper says: Did you know blood bounces on ice? Mark scoffs: You read that in a book. Jasper goes on: Read it and seen it. Just wait for the goon, Rosebud. Everything gets better when the goon enters.

There is tension hidden among the dusters. I’m struggling to stay awake. MAKE SOME NOISE. Oh, the game is starting? No, not yet. Who are we making noise for? Oh, they call them the ice girls. So the ice girls come gliding in. Eyelined. Bronzed. Lace-up crop tops baring ribless mid-drifts. They are solid muscle. They are clearing loose ice off the rink with huge green shovels. It’s hard work. Like really hard work. While young boys and grown men watch them through the tall, glass (plastic?) partition. Some with their faces pressed up against. They are watching these women clear loose ice off the rink with huge green shovels, and some are taking photos of them doing this. Some of the ice girls waves. Some smile. I see the moments where they do neither. I want to smash those cameras. Because there’s something about women pushing large shovel of snow in hardly any clothing in freezing conditions for what I suspect is little pay. (Turned out, unfortunately, I was right about that.)

Behind me, a woman says: I wonder if those girls are wondering, where have all the cowboys gone? Laughter. I feel my face turning red. I can’t help but turn around to say something, though I don’t know what it is that I would even say, when I’m drown out by GET HOME SAFE and I turn around to see there’s a child waving on top of a big green Zamboni while the ice girls now are shooting t-shirts from something called the “pucker sucker.” STOMP STOMP CLAP. STOMP STOMP CLAP. Is the game starting? No, my husband explains, pointing to the Jumbotron where a veteran is being honored. Three tours later, he’s taking a photo-op with Sparky the Dragon. Suddenly the ice girls disappear and the players glide out to the ice. One player in particular gets a lot of attention. Taraves! I LOVE YOU! A woman in front of us screams. Is Taraves the goon? No, no, he’s a star player, Brian says. Mark adds: and no one screams for the goon like that, before the game starts. I see. Sort of. I thought it was the goon who made things more interesting? What does the goon do again? But I don’t ask because I’m drifting off, falling into my husband’s shoulder. Which is surprising considering the screaming and music and shouting is all crescendoing to some new, nonexistent point of loudness.

I’m not sure how long I passed in and out of a rough-hewn sleep, but suddenly I woke up and it was The Hour of Islanders. Players were shoved again and again against the glass (plastic?) barrier. Wait; has the game started? The woman behind me screams: TURNT UP. My husband laughs and whispers loudly: I don’t think she knows what that means. Why is he whispering? Everyone is suddenly cheering. Everyone is suddenly booing. Matt leans over and explains: see that guy? That’s the goon. All he does is start fights. That’s what he does? That’s all he does? But Goon, where did you come from? How did you even get this position on a professional sports team? Has anyone scored yet? I watch the goon wail into half the other team. The refs stand aside for a good while, an afterthought. Like the specified gates with breathalyzers announcement that suddenly comes on when it seems everyone has definitely had too much already. Megadeth suddenly comes on: they are sending the goon to the penalty box. The crowd is furious. The crowd is cheering. I forget who we are rooting for? Whose Goon was that? Can both teams have goon? Is there a Chosen Goon who fights everybody?

There’s instant replay of the fight when no one’s even scored.

They are playing WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS when no one’s even scored.

There is blood bouncing on the ice just before an ice girl gives a child a gift certificate for ice cream. I hear the woman sing out to her: Where is your john wayne and why have you become the tractor? I whirl around: What IS your problem? She can’t even hear you. But the woman can’t hear me either, and I’m one row down for her. She’s not even looking at me. I’m sitting and she’s standing. Jasper is trying to explain something but the noise drowns out most of what he says: the goaltender… butterflies… now serving the 2-and-10. My husband adds: Just wait. It’s gonna happen all over again.

So something is going to happen all over again. What happened in the first place? I’m watching the ice carefully as a choir blitzes the large screen with GOD BLESS AMERICA. Mark says: NOW they are out for revenge but… meaning it’s the hour of someone’s vengeance, but people are walking out. The game is over. Kind of. Players are still skating on the ice. I still don’t know who won, or if anyone ever scored.

We walk across the parking lot to the Marriott hotel bar where everyone is also headed. Gaspar grabs us a table and quickly spreads our all our things so we can order drinks at the bar. This time I get a beer. I’m served rather quickly. I pull through the crowd, and wait for the others in the middle of the space, at some undesignated point in which I hope I’m found. I wonder silently if a poet has tried to establish an arts space in a Marriott hotel bar. I wonder what Avraham Shlonski would have to say about that. I watch Gaspar trying not to fall asleep at the table he’s holding down. A Tavares jersey is slipping out of its frame that hangs above his head. The frame is crooked. As if a star’s star is left hanging in the balance. Who would hang a goon’s jersey on their wall? Would anyone? I think about fixing the glass so the jersey’s not hanging out, or at least straightening the frame, when suddenly one of the ice girls limps into the bar alone. I recognize her immediately, and I want to clear out the entire bar for her. Make everyone get up so that she might sit anywhere she wants. Later, I’ll read Margaret Atwood’s “Backdrop address cowboy,” and revel in these words:

 

I am the horizon
you ride towards, the thing you can never lasso
 
I am also what surrounds you:
my brain
scattered with your
tincans, bones, empty shells,
the litter of your invasions.
 
I am the space you desecrate
as you pass through.

 

But at this moment, I have not yet such words to offer. Her face is scrubbed clean, and she’s looking around. She stands there frowning, off to the side of the doorway, looking for a long, long time, looking for someone, long after Brian grabs my hand and we all finally sinks into the booth and I lose sight of her for good. I drink my beer and float in and out of the conversation, still thinking about the goon and his strange place in the world of hockey and I’m thinking of her too, that she seems to be wearing a new dress but they don’t even, don’t even notice her, in this Marriott bar on a day half-over, the music blaring, blaring the kind of songs no one actually ever hears.