Thursday, August 27, 2009

What the hell is this blog about?

On a sunny spring Sunday earlier this year, at roughly 5 p.m., I received a phone call at my Pasadena homestead. It was my boss. That is, my soon-to-be former boss.

"I'm afraid I have some bad news," he said, before telling me that I need not bother to return from my ski vacation. I was laid off. The Newspaper Whose Name I Shall Not Speak no longer needed my services as their transportation reporter. 

The rest of the call with The Editor/Android went as expected. He didn't know the details of my severance package, he actually took a long pause to consider whether I could use him as a reference and he failed to even say "good luck." He did mention that I could make an appointment to come into the office and grab my personal belongings.

Wow, thanks dude! I guess that's what 13 years and a Pulitzer gets you these days: execution by telephone and a nice blog post.

Up to then it had been a pretty good Sunday. I had returned the night before from Tahoe -- scrumptiously good skiing, by the way (that's me at right showing bad form on the Nastar course at Squaw Valley) -- and earlier Sunday I had run a 5K with a friend and then ably survived my weekly ice skating lesson with my Siberian instructor.

Upon hanging up the telephone, a thought did occur to me: I wasn't going to let this ruin my Sunday AND now I had the time to get serious about this hockey thing.

Allow me to backtrack.

The previous November I was sitting in my pie slice-shaped cubicle/cell waiting for my mid-afternoon feeding when an email flashed on my screen: a colleague was selling two tickets for cheap to that evening's Los Angeles Kings-Dallas Stars tilt. This sounded like a good excuse to go out on a school night, so I called my friend Scott.

Two things you must know about Scott: he's a helluva hockey player and he once listed "napping" as a hobby on his job resume, thus earning my everlasting respect. Upon hearing the tickets were only $18 each, Scott agreed to roust himself and attend the game.

In my 14-plus years in L.A. I had only been to one Kings previously and I couldn't remember any of it. But that night's game was a revelation.

First, there were the Ice Crew. I couldn't get over the fact that a marketing dude had successfully lobbied his bosses that it would be smart to put buxom chicks on ice skates and allow them to skate around bent over shovels during timeouts. All, of course, in the name of providing clean ice for the hockey players and their fans.

It got better. Later in the game, Kings captain Dustin Brown got a bead on Dallas' Stephane Robidas, knocking him into the Kings' bench. Man-gasm time! The Kings won 3 to 2 in a shootout.

Many more Kings' games with Scott followed as getting Kings tickets proved to be beyond easy. And then, in January, while debating the skating techniques of various Ice Crew members, Scott casually mentioned that I should play hockey. I countered with the fact that I was 42 years old and hadn't ice skated since the early 1990s. My only real skating experience came when I was four years old and my mother signed me up for figure skating lessons in the first of her many attempts to turn me gay (not that there's anything wrong with it, but it didn't take).

Nonetheless, I listened to Scott and willed myself to grow a pair. In short order, I discovered there was an ice rink in Pasadena, about a mile from where I had lived. I signed up for private lessons from a guy who grew up in Siberia. After being shitcanned, I was liberated to skate each and every weekday afternoon -- meaning it was just me and a few six-year-old girl figure skaters sharing the ice.

Well, sharing the ice to the extent that a look-at-me-I'm-a-six-year-old-girl-figure-skater is willing to share the ice. But it worked. I got a little better. And I managed not to attract the attention of anyone who might wonder why a 42-year-old man was showing up each day at an ice rink filled with tutu-wearing girls.

In June, I worked up the courage -- or the stupidity -- to play in a Wednesday night pickup game with guys (and one girl) who actually had hockey skills. I kid you not when I say that jumping off the boards and into the game was as nerve-wracking as my second skydiving experience.

But it was awesome. And why didn't someone bother to tell me for 42 years that playing hockey was just a ridiculous amount of fun? Even if you really suck. To borrow a phrase from Bruce Springsteen, when asked to describe what it was like to play the Super Bowl, "I feel like I've just taken a syringe of adrenalin straight to the heart."

And that's about as articulate as I can be, at least at this point, about this little hockey obsession of mine. But sometimes that happens in life: you stumble on something you didn't know existed and it wakes your ass up.

More on this and many other hockey-related things soon...

--Steve Hymon

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