Hockey Night In Canada

Contributor: Tony Rauch

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I move to the south side. Mostly to try and get something done for once. Everyone I know hovers around the north side. When I lived up there, people used to stop by every now and then, which was nice, but eventually it impeded my progress. I couldn’t get anything done. I vowed to change, but eventually I had to move. I guess, for me, it just got to be too much of the same ol’ thing up there. I needed an infusion of newness.

Unfortunately, after some time on the south side things began to get lonely. Sure I was getting things done for a change, but it wasn’t the same. Life didn’t seem to have that spark and flash to it. Colors seemed to fade.

I thought about this a lot, finally deciding to get involved with things on the outside more, so I started a music club, that is a group of people who get together and listen and talk about music. I figured this was a good way to expose myself to professional appreciators like myself, to music I may not otherwise happen across, and to stay connected to the outside world.

Every other week we get together, each member bringing in a song or three that excites them, makes them happy or sad or sleepy or whatever. This week we’re meeting at Dade’s, but when I show up no one is listening to music. They’re all sitting around watching Hockey Night In Canada [a news show that reports on all things hockey, from the low juniors to the majors, including the European leagues, but basically the news is just an excuse to showcase the fights of the day, which are always dismissed by Donnie, the amiable host, merely as squabbles, spats, tiffs, and the like]. Now I like watching Hockey Night too, but it was time to appreciate music, not time to appreciate hockey fights.

“Why no music?” I ask, concerned, thinking maybe someone passed away.

“We can do that another time,” someone mentions absentmindedly, without taking their eyes from the television.

“But . . it’s music time. Not . . not hockey time. . .” I stammer to myself.

Everyone else sits there watching hockey highlights.

“I like watching hockey too,” I finally say, “But when are we going to rock-out? And with wild abandon?”

“Maybe later,” Ray Ray utters unconvincingly, stuck in a hockey highlight trance.

“Well, did they change the time for Hockey Night?” I look around, concerned.

“It’s on much earlier now,” someone stares at the television, swirls of color and action circling the screen.

I look around and sigh, “That’s disruptive.”

“Gotta roll with the changes, guy,” someone yawns, staring, mesmerized.

The TV hisses a bad apartment fizz: “. . inching Moose Jaw up two points in the Prince Albert Conference. And now onto Quebec City, where it seems Tommy Luc Quey is involved in a minor disagreement with Hamilton’s Pauly Pierre.” The announcer, a hearty little man named Donnie Cheety, who appears as if an effeminately dressed cartoon Leprechaun complete with compressed wiry frame, red face, bright orange hair, tidy beard, green plaid velvet suit (complete with little vest), and little pink bow tie. Donnie is, shall we say, the excitable type, but very serious and dour when it comes to the fisticuffs, as if each daily dust-up is somehow holding society together, as if poetic metaphors representing our own struggles, as if cathartic releases of our existential angst or ennui, as if mini operas dramatizing the human condition - man fighting himself, man fighting against his own limitations in an indifferent world, man struggling against the confinements of society - as if each tiff worked to excise our struggles of the day. The news of the day was just a frame to build tension and suspense, to put a context around the fighting, the existential release of incomprehensible forces.

So the action switches from Donnie in the studio to two grown men whaling away on one another, arms a blur, heads snapping, sweat flying, a tooth being dislodged. And the fight goes on for a while, a mechanical whirl of extremities in a pair of windmill blurs, Donnie muttering in a fatherly tone: “Now now boys,” although it is not clear to me what that comment is in reference to. Then towards the end of the fight, when the referees finally manage to work their way in to break it up, when the combatants are spent and noodley, the show switches back to the studio where Donnie is turned to the side, looking down at a monitor beside him with a grave look of concern. Finally he swivels to face the camera, “While in New Brunswick, new commissioner of the Royal Academy . . .”

“What about dinner?” I finally mutter, looking around as the action subsides to the business affairs of running leagues and drafting junior players.

“We don’t have to hang out every night, you know,” Ray Ray yawns, which pretty much stops me right in my tracks.

“We haven’t met in, like, three weeks,” I sigh, disappointed and confused.

“Have a seat,” someone walks past me, someone I’ve never seen before, “Apparently there’s some good action tonight.”

“We gonna listen to music after?” I look around hopefully, “I brought demo versions of . . .” I trail off, a little hurt.

“Which ones?” someone mutters unenthusiastically, slumping low on the couch, staring at the television, nibbling on Chex Mix from a bowl in his lap.

I look down at my satchel, hanging from my arm. “Ah, ‘Nobody Knows’ by Destroy All Monsters. And, ah, Sissy Bar’s cover of ‘Gin and Juice’. And, of course, the biggie: Sonic's Rendezvous Band’s epic ‘City Slang’.”

“That all?” the Chex Mix guy, another person I’ve never seen before, again mutters unenthusiastically, “Got any metal?”

“Ah, only some Hellhammer,” I shrug, “‘Ready For Slaughter’. All three-and-a-half minutes,” I report.

“Nothing longer, huh?” the guy on the couch manages to seem disappointed and uninterested (or unimpressed) at the same time.

“I think there’s an epic eight minute version out there. Maybe what I have is edited from some original longer version,” I sigh, thinking they won’t care anyway.

There’s a pause, then the guy on the couch with the snacks comments, “Hellhammer. Yeah, Hellhammer’s good,” he looks away to consider this a minute, “‘Ready For Slaughter’. . . Haven’t heard that in a while,” he nods to himself, thinking. “Ready For Slaughter.”

“All three-and-a-half minutes,” I nod.

The guy on the couch looks back over his shoulder and smirks, repeating, “That all, huh?”

“Yeah. Really,” I squint and shrug, “Wouldn’t a very brief song illustrate just how ready you are for slaughter? As apposed to a filibuster?” I gesture, “Because, to me, I’m not convinced. No. I don’t buy it. That statement strains credulity. I’m incredulous,” I announce to no one in particular, as if thinking out loud.

The guy on the couch looks away and nods again, “I know what you mean. It doesn’t seem like they’re ready for slaughter at all.”

“If anything, it sounds like they’re stalling,” I shrug.

“Really,” the guy on the couch thinks, turning back to the television, “Come on guys, get off your asses and get on with it already. Geez. . . Sounds like maybe their heart’s not really into it.”

“And if you’re not quite ready for slaughter just yet, then fine, take your time, we can wait,” I look over to the television, “Misplaced your keys. Your girlfriend’s annoying, unorganized friend needs a ride to the airport. You’re stricken with the ol’ ennui. Broke a shoelace. Forgot to set the alarm. Your boss flaked and you had to work late. We’ve been there. We understand. No hurry guys. Really. Anytime. Whenever you’re ready for slaughter, we’ll be right here,” I shrug.

“You know, I’m just not feelin’ it tonight,” Dade walks past me to the television, yawns, stretches, stopping at the television, then turns and wanders into the next room.

Finally the announcer on the television looks back into the camera, “Let’s check back to Quebec City, in on how Tommy and Paulie are hashing things out between themselves.” And the drama resumes with Tommy and Paulie twisting free of the referees’ grips and meeting to flail away at one another again, finally losing their balances, slipping to their knees, bear hugging one another to the ground, then laying on the ice, side by side, taking turns punching one another.

“A nice way to resolve their little issue,” Donnie chimes in boastfully as the referees grab Tommy’s and Paulie’s legs and drag them away from one another, bloody, sweat soaked, and spent. “Now, doesn’t that feel much better?” coos a supportive Donnie, “Nice to have that off your chest and out of your system, now isn’t it?”

Tommy and Paulie slowly sit up, then stand, the referees holding them up and ushering them away from one another. Again, Tommy catches his breath, twists to break away from the refs who are holding him, and goes after Paulie.

“That’s the way, Tommy,” Donnie comments, almost egging them on, as if within each fight could be found a little life lesson, “No reason to give up so easily. Can’t get anywhere if you just give up. . . Wheeeeeeere does giving up ever get you?”

The refs grab Tommy and try to pull him back, eventually one jumps on his back, slowing him down. They work him to his knees, twisting him away, then raising him and leading him off as he struggles to get free.

“You’ll all live much longer with that out of your system,” Donnie reasons heartily, “No need to keep things bottled up and festering.”

The scene shifts back to the studio where once again Donnie is turned to the side, gazing longingly into a monitor, as if reliving a cherished memory of youth. He has his fingers to his chin as if considering some mythic riddle of existence. Then he slowly moves his gaze back to the studio camera, “Nothing wrong with a hockey fight,” everyone repeats, including myself and Donnie, Donnie reporting sternly in his thick Canadian accent, his eyes aglow as the station fades to a commercial, but the rest of us repeat it as if some contemplative mantra, not as in a monotoned relaxation technique or philosophy, but more as if from an ingrained gene.

Finally, through the confusion, pain, disillusionment and hurt, I say, “What if you don’t know what your place in life is? . . What if you . . . don’t fit in anywhere?”

“Don’t worry,” Dade calls from another room, “Donnie just signed a new three year contract. . . He’ll be fine. . . Really.”

“Bad case of nostalgia acting up?” someone asks in a reporter’s monotone, as if mimicking Donnie, then hitting the mute button on the remote to turn off the sound as a laxative commercial comes on.

“Guess I was looking forward to . . .” I trail off, as if thinking, adjusting my satchel on my shoulder.

“Let’s hear that Hellhammer,” the guy on the couch shrugs, “Break it out, man. It’s only a commercial,” he nods to the television which glows patiently, staring like a devil’s eye.

“Apocalyptic Raids or Demon Entrails?” someone asks, referring to which album the song is from.

“Yeah, I could maybe use a good jolt. A short dose of Celtic Frost, or Discharge might hit the spot right about now,” someone looks off to the distance, thinking.

This perks me up a little. I smile, “Yeah. Yeah,” and step forward, as if to indicate ‘that might work’. “I’m not sure what it’s from though,” I turn to the stereo.

“Bad day, huh?” the guy on the couch asks as I step to the stereo, bend, and remove the compact disk from my satchel.

“Bad week,” I report. “Bad month. . . How’d you know?” I poke the buttons to activate the rockage, but the guy doesn’t answer. The music comes on, the operatic opening chords churning to gain a chugging momentum to gallop around the entire room. I stare at the floor to consider the artistry on display.

“Hey,” Dade calls from beyond, “What is that? . . Hey, . . turn that up.”

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Tony Rauch has three books of short stories published – “I’m right here” (spout press), “Laredo” (Eraserhead Press), “Eyeballs growing all over me . . . again” (Eraserhead Press). He has additional titles forthcoming in the next few months.
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