London Junior Hockey

I’m sitting in the last row of Budweiser Gardens, the 9000-seat arena that’s the home of the London Knights. These young men, ages 16-20, dream of a career in professional hockey, perhaps as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, or maybe the Detroit Red Wings.

This is my first Knights game of the year. I only know of three players – Alex Formenton and Evan Bouchard played a few games in the National Hockey League and were then returned to junior hockey. Liam Foudy is merely a name I’ve heard of. So I haven’t been engaged in a deep feeling of “team”, a group that I’d be passionate to cheer on. My connection is simply that I live close to London. Unlike the Leafs, players on the Knights have a short shelf life before they’re on to something else in their hockey career.

The game has just started. It’s dark up here but brilliantly white on the ice, which is shiny with the lights. My first thought? It’s so pretty! Human jewels, some in black with gold, and some in white with gold, are flitting over the surface. It feels like a white Christmas tree. Perhaps this isn’t the analysis you were expecting from a hockey fan but it works for me.

The Knights have just scored the opening goal on a “2 on 1” (two players rushing towards the opposing goal while one defenseman tries to fend them off). The goalie leans toward the puck carrier who then slips the disc over to his friend > goalie out of position > empty net > goal! So sweet. Such grace in motion. I stand and applaud although my heart doesn’t really soar with the Knights. It’s just fun to cheer.

The computer on the big screen is exhorting us to “Make Some Noise!” I’m always suspicious of such forced enthusiasm. I figure that the brilliance of the play is what should get me out of my seat. I stay on my bum.

Okay, now it’s time for the great Harvey’s hamburger giveaway. Everybody in one section of the stands (out of perhaps 30) gets their hunger appeased. I’m in 315. There’s a counter on the big screen, going pretty fast. And now it’s slowing down … 311 … 312 … 313 … 314 … (pause) … 315! Oh, Harvey, I love you. Folks around me are standing and cheering.

After a few more goals, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the McDonald’s Big Mac Attack Challenge. It’s 6:48 left in the second period. If the Knights score by 4:48, everyone in the building gets a burger. Oh my. And then … a close-in play in front of Erie’s net, a flick of the stick, and in! 5:34 to go. A two-burger night!

Now I’m in Harvey’s, having consumed my free Original Burger and my not-free fries. I’m happy. The game ended in a very short overtime period, which is played with just three skaters on each side. It’s très exciting since the skilled players have so much room to wheel and deal. Alex Formenton roared down the ice for the Knights, with ending the game on his mind. But he was checked neatly by an Erie defenseman and the play surged the other way. In five seconds, the puck was in the London net, and the game was indeed over. I was okay … the final flourish was spectacular.

My only sadness concerned the woman I had been laughing with most of the game. She gathered her family, turned away from me, and left. No goodbye. I felt the loss.

It was a night out with spiraling energies, happy moments and sad moments, sublime skill and silly mistakes. A lot like life.

Day Nine: Homeward

What I hadn’t yet experienced was a real New York bagel.  One local guy suggested Tompkins Square Bagels, about six blocks from my room.  So I went, on my last morning.  There were laughing guys behind the counter, smiling patrons in front of it.  Just a wee place but it felt like I was entering the hall of gastronomic fame.

Sourdough looked good and so did blueberry cream cheese.  I guarantee you that the taste was far better.  How can bagels be this soft and yummy?  I sat at my little table, watching people and savouring my breakie.  Even the coffee was good.

I thought ahead to the Newark Liberty International Airport, waiting for my flight to be called, hungry.  How about a bagel to go?  In an instant the choice was clear … pumpernickel with bacon cream cheese.  Decadence of the delayed gratification genre.

Back on the street, I talked to myself.  “You’re tired.  You have this big suitcase.  Subway stations don’t have elevators from the surface to the bowels > > > Get a cab!”  My adventurous spirit was fading away as I raised my arm, beckoning to a whizzing yellow object passing by on the opposite side of the street.  “He’ll turn around for me.”  He didn’t.  So I waited for maybe ten minutes, arm at the ready.  No cabs.

I glanced over to the familiar bus stop and my insides shifted.  “No cab indeed.”  Three minutes later, I was hauling my local world onto the public beast.  “One more time … I can do this.  It’ll just take a transfer or two.”  Later, as I soared through the air en route to Toronto, I added up the vehicles of my day – it came to eleven.  M14A bus > 4 subway > 7 subway > 2 subway > New Jersey Transit train to the Newark Airport > Skytrain to Terminal B > Porter Flight PD 130 to Toronto > Billy Bishop Airport shuttle bus to Union Station > UP Express to Pearson Airport > Skyway Park shuttle van to Scarlet > two hour drive home.  Piece of cake.  I handled the luggaged stairs, I found elevators, I balanced on escalators, I had fun.  Dear taxi, you’re just not needed today.

Even though I was in airplane mode above New York State, I could still compose a blog post about Thursday.  I wrote and wrote about the 911 Museum.  It was difficult writing, since my heart had entered my fingers.  Upon arrival in Toronto, I sat in the airport lounge, did some editing, and prepared to click “Post”.  Click.  Then I copied my message to Facebook.  I also use that platform to post some photos.  I came to the one which showed Bruce’s name, one of the 911 victims, carved into a long metal plate.  I looked more closely.  Above “Bruce Douglas Boehm” was another, and my breath ceased.  It was “Brooke Alexandra Jackman”, the woman whose “missing” poster I had spied the day before, the woman whom I had adopted in love.  The metal plates encircled the two reflecting pools which were the locations of the twin towers.  The number of names inscribed was 2977.  And still, it was Bruce and Brooke.

Love lives

Day One Some More: All Aboard

I’ve just finished a three-course meal, with wine. And exactly what universe am I in? Clearly not the world of Air Canada. The entrée was an Indian dish – chick peas blended with some saucy spice, yellow rice that suspiciously tasted like that expensive stuff called saffron, and creamed spinach. Yum!

Earlier, there was a salad featuring some exquisite white seeds, bathed in a sweet cream sauce. (Woh. Maybe I should start writing for some gourmet magazine.) Later it was a scrumptious chocolate cake, plumb full of semi-sweet chips. (That does it … I’m officially moving to Switzerland to scribe for Epicure.)

I’m sitting beside a friendly Japanese couple. They live in Orillia, Ontario and have a getaway condo in Toronto. Alrighty then. Despite their probable wealth, they’re the nicest folks. The gentleman has been helping me figure out the entertainment system. They’re heading to Rome. Actually, I bet I have world travellers all around me. (That does make sense, Bruce. After all, you’re going to Europe.)

I just switched the screen to “Flight Tracking”. We’re a bit past Newfoundland so I’m the furthest east I’ve ever been. More to come.

I’ve paused the movie A Wrinkle In Time for dinner and now it’s time to get back to it. So far the story is delicious. The scientist father of a 12-year-old girl named Meg and her younger brother has disappeared during an experiment about realities beyond time and space. Celestial beings come visiting to coach the kids about finding dad. The girl is très dubious about all this but I can feel her starting to come around, in a stretching sort of way.

Now the film is over. Brother and sister enter another universe in search of dad, and assorted creatures of light and darkness come their way. Meg becomes a girl of faith and at one point leaps back from the alternate world into the void, trusting that she will be deposited back on dear old planet Earth. And there’s a blessed reunion with her father. “I’m sorry, Meg, that I left you. I wanted to shake hands with the universe and instead I should have been holding yours.” Oh my … love abounds.

It’s two hours later. I slept like a baby … crying all night. After the cabin lights went out, I took off my shoes, wedged the two blankets between the edge of my headrest and the window, plunked the pillow on top, and longed for my teddy bear. Sleep? I don’t know. Maybe an hour. Now the lights are on again (5:30 am Brussels time) and we are being plied with breakfast. Bring on the coffee. Conventional wisdom says to adjust to the new time right away. So if I go to bed at 10:00 pm tonight (Sunday), that means I have sixteen-and-a-half hours to go. (Sigh) “I can do it,” he said unconvincingly.

Forty minutes to Amsterdam. Speed 967 kph. Outside temperature -52 degrees Celsius. I knew I should have brought a winter coat.

Breakfast was similar to dinner … delicious. There was a soft ciabatta bun layered with a big slice of mushroom, red peppers, onions and something unknown, all pulled together with a sweet sauce. Then there was raspberry yogurt, not to mention orange juice and two coffees. Guess I’ll just stay awake from now on.

I spared a thought for the human hands who created and displayed the airborne food I consumed. Artistically done. And it’s possible that those hands will never hold such a ciabatta at 39,000 feet.

Amsterdam Airport at 8:30 am local. It’s such a huge place. People look like Torontonians to me, with such a wide range of cultures. What I find really strange is that all the signs are in English. I want Dutch!

Thirteen-and-a-half hours of wakefulness to go. I can do this.

That’s enough for Day One, since I’ve already leaked into Day Two. I’ll see you today, my friends.

Tarts

I was talking to a teacher a few days ago about our favourite flavours of pie. I mentioned that there was a tie for first in my tummy: pumpkin and lemon. She replied that a gift would be coming my way, and yesterday I received it – six yummy-looking pumpkin tarts. Cue the salivation.

I gazed at the little darlings with lust on my tongue … but then there was a pause. What could I create around these tiny brown circles with 26 Grade 6 kids? I decided to ask them.

“There are six of these and twenty-six of you. How should I decide who gets one?” Here are the young suggestions:

1. Someone who doesn’t talk to friends when we’re working

2. Someone who does something kind

3. Someone who gets all their work done

And there were a couple of others that I can’t remember.

“Okay. I’ve picked one of your ideas and I’ll deliver one of the tarts when I see an example of it. I’m not going to tell you what idea I’ve picked.”

I picked kindness.

Kids were on the carpet as the teacher led a discussion. One boy was massaging the head of the fellow in front of him. Unusual but tender. (Tart)

Then the class was divided into groups, working on putting a series of pictures in some order and labelling each drawing. One girl had been doing the writing in her group and sensed that a boy wanted a turn. She told him to go ahead. He smiled. (Tart)

Four kids were sitting at their desks in a group. One girl dropped her eraser and another one reached down to pick it up. (Tart)

Three more to go but no more examples of kindness showed themselves. So I switched gears. I decided to reward speaking up about important things in front of the class.

I had mentioned to the kids that my wife Jody died four years ago. One young man asked “What did she die of?” > “Lung cancer.” (Tart)

A girl said something that I thought was brilliant, but darned if I can remember her gem. Still … (Tart)

And then I changed my guideline again. As the bell rang for hometime, one girl looked so sad. I walked over to her. (Tart)

***

Yes, I love pumpkin. But that version of love pales before the beauty of human beings.

Potpourri

Last night, Jody and took in the buffet at the Mandarin Restaurant in London.  It was an oriental, occidental and every other -ental feast you could imagine.  I’ve long been known as a culninary conservative and yesterday was no exception.  Discretion is my middle name.  Actually, it’s Archer.  Anyway, here’s the short list of items consumed by yours truly:

Smoked salmon sushi, California roll, avocado sushi, salmon egg sushi, tuna sashimi, potato salad, broccoli salad, fruit salad, mixed vegetables, chicken wings, mushroom chow mein, Shanghai noodles, hot pepper beef, teriyaki shrimp, garlic chicken, caramel mini-cupcake, cheesecake, cheesecake ice cream, chocolate cookie, and … a fortune cookie.  (The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all undimmed).  I don’t know about enlightenment … the evening seemed to be about enheaviment.

Happily, I didn’t have to undo the button at the top of my fly after the meal.  Being discreet has its privileges.  Since I wasn’t being bothered by bodily pains, there was time to ruminate on the vast variety of foods that were now sitting inside of me.  So many flavours.  So many colours.  So many textures.  And I started to think about people, all seven billion of us: all shapes, sizes, ages, personalities, appearances and strengths.  How would I describe that buffet?  My friend Google came to the rescue, painting a multifaceted picture of us human beings:

Aable
abnormal
absent-minded
above average
adventurous
affectionate
agile
agreeable
alert
amazing
ambitious
amiable
amusing
analytical
angelic
apathetic
apprehensive
ardent
artificial
artistic
assertive
attentive
average
awesome
awful
Bbalanced
beautiful
below average
beneficent
blue
blunt
boisterous
brave
bright
brilliant
buff
Ccallous
candid
cantankerous
capable
careful
careless
caustic
cautious
charming
childish
childlike
cheerful
chic
churlish
circumspect
civil
clean
clever
clumsy
coherent
cold
competent
composed
conceited
condescending
confident
confused
conscientious
considerate
content
cool
cool-headed
cooperative
cordial
courageous
cowardly
crabby
crafty
cranky
crass
critical
cruel
curious
cynical
Ddainty
decisive
deep
deferential
deft
delicate
demonic
dependent
delightful
demure
depressed
devoted
dextrous
diligent
direct
dirty
disagreeable
discerning
discreet
disruptive
distant
distraught
distrustful
dowdy
dramatic
dreary
drowsy
drugged
drunk
dull
dutiful
Eeager
earnest
easy-going
efficient
egotistical
elfin
emotional
energetic
enterprising
enthusiastic
evasive
even-tempered
exacting
excellent
excitable
experienced
Ffabulous
fastidious
ferocious
fervent
fiery
flabby
flaky
flashy
frank
friendly
funny
fussy
Ggenerous
gentle
gloomy
glutinous
good
grave
great
groggy
grouchy
guarded
Hhateful
hearty
helpful
hesitant
hot-headed
hypercritical
hysterical
Iidiotic
idle
illogical
imaginative
immature
immodest
impatient
imperturbable
impetuous
impractical
impressionable
impressive
impulsive
inactive
incisive
incompetent
inconsiderate
inconsistent
independent
indiscreet
indolent
indefatigable
industrious
inexperienced
insensitive
inspiring
intelligent
interesting
intolerant
inventive
irascible
irritable
irritating
Jjocular
jovial
joyous
judgmental
Kkeen
kind
Llame
lazy
lean
leery
lethargic
level-headed
listless
lithe
lively
local
logical
long-winded
lovable
love-lorn
lovely
Mmaternal
mature
mean
meddlesome
mercurial
methodical
meticulous
mild
miserable
modest
moronic
morose
motivated
musical
Nnaive
nasty
natural
naughty
negative
nervous
noisy
normal
nosy
numb
Oobliging
obnoxious
old-fashioned
one-sided
orderly
ostentatious
outgoing
outspoken
Ppassionate
passive
paternal
paternalistic
patient
peaceful
peevish
pensive
persevering
persnickety
petulant
picky
plain
plain-speaking
playful
pleasant
plucky
polite
popular
positive
powerful
practical
prejudiced
pretty
proficient
proud
provocative
prudent
punctual
Qquarrelsome
querulous
quick
quick-tempered
quiet
Rrealistic
reassuring
reclusive
reliable
reluctant
resentful
reserved
resigned
resourceful
respected
respectful
responsible
restless
revered
ridiculous
Ssad
sassy
saucy
sedate
self-assured
selfish
sensible
sensitive
sentimental
serene
serious
sharp
short-tempered
shrewd
shy
silly
sincere
sleepy
slight
sloppy
slothful
slovenly
slow
smart
snazzy
sneering
snobby
somber
sober
sophisticated
soulful
soulless
sour
spirited
spiteful
stable
staid
steady
stern
stoic
striking
strong
stupid
sturdy
subtle
sullen
sulky
supercilious
superficial
surly
suspicious
sweet
Ttactful
tactless
talented
testy
thinking
thoughtful
thoughtless
timid
tired
tolerant
touchy
tranquil
Uugly
unaffected
unbalanced
uncertain
uncooperative
undependable
unemotional
unfriendly
unguarded
unhelpful
unimaginative
unmotivated
unpleasant
unpopular
unreliable
unsophisticated
unstable
unsure
unthinking
unwilling
Vvenal
versatile
vigilant
Wwarm
warmhearted
wary
watchful
weak
well-behaved
well-developed
well-intentioned
well-respected
well-rounded
willing
wonderful
Yvolcanic
vulnerable
Zzealous

Quite the smorgasbord, wouldn’t you say?  Beyond good and bad, tasty and bland, filling and light.  Just us.