Why I Can’t Watch Hockey

Unlike what the misleading title might have you believe, I have an enormous respect for hockey athletes, and this story has almost nothing to do with that anyway. In fact, I don’t even write that “enormous respect” thing lightly, either. I mean it. It’s mind-boggling to me the way they can coordinate movement on the ice and the incredible dexterity of handling the puck all with the tactics of play with their teammates and opponents.

Insane.

ANYWAY, I know a bit of this because of one time Amanda, Pierre, and I went to a hockey game being hosted at an ice skating rink near us. It wasn’t a pro league, obviously, and in fact it was a bunch of seniors – which made for a really easy sell even to me, a non-hockey fan.

“Hey,” Pierre pitched, “you want to watch a bunch of old guys play hockey? There might be a fight.”

I was in.

So we’re sitting there, watching the game, when I try to point out something regarding one of the players. I think he’d done some fancy skating I wanted to call out, I don’t remember- doesn’t matter. The point is his jersey number was #78, and I tell them this to try and identify him, to which they say, “Who?”

“He’s number seventy-eight.”

“Where?”

“Right there.”

“Where? I can’t get a clear look at his jersey.”

“He’s number seventy-eight,” I say, beginning to get exasperated. “There, by the other goal. He’s wearing a green jersey and red shorts.”

“Who?” says Pierre.

“The motherf**ker in red shorts, by the opposite f**king gate now,” is my reply.

He looks at me, confused. “Evan, they’re all in black. No one’s wearing red.”

I’m shocked. Never before in my life did I think my eyes would deceive me such that I confused black fabric with bright-ass, unmistakeable red. I look back to the players.

“He’s…he’s in a green jersey…”

“Yeah, I see the green jersey, but his shorts are black, dude.” He taps Amanda on the shoulder for back-up. She nods and reinforces his assertion that Red Shorts was, indeed, wearing black shorts.

I stammer, watching the players now with a bit of existential dread. Is this what color-blindness is? I thought. That is so surely scarlet red, how am I seeing that if it’s black? Uh-oh. I don’t know all how, but this will definitely affect a bunch of things in life. Ink choices, traffic signals maybe, for sure my fashion sense. Am I-

Then I see them snickering, and I’m finally allowed to have it dawn on me: I’m being gaslit, and my gullible ass bought that fable hook, line, sinker, the pole, the fisherman, and the whole damned boat.

We like to think of ourselves as mentally secure, most days. We may have our baggage, sure. It comes with life. But we see or hear stories of people that believe outlandish things, simpletons that throw in behind transparently deceitful cult figures. They’re like goldfish, with the sphere of their beliefs visible from the outside in its entirity, and we can laugh at how foolish the fish must be fore believing their bowl to be the extent the world.

But really, these situations deserve more empathy. They ought to be approached with a mindset of “There but for the grace of God go I,” for any one of us is capable – within the right circumstances, upbringing, environments, or pressures – of believing what is antethetical to that which is before our very eyes. It should be a lesson of how malleable we can be, how vulnerable even the sanctity of our own minds can be, of fatefully temporary we all ar-

Ahem. Yeah. Anyway, um, yeah. I don’t really watch a lot of hockey. Cool sport, though.

My Peak as an Athlete

I’m going to put up here at the top that this may be one of those better-in-person stories to recount, but ah well, let’s give it a go.

I’ve mentioned recently that I got up to a lot of stuff when I was twelve. Don’t know why, but I guess that tiny age in particular was one for trying new things and getting into the unexpected. One of those things happened to be joining my tiny Lutheran middle school’s basketball team, despite having next to absolute zero interest in doing so. But heck, it gave me a shot at some street cred, so I went for it. Said street cred, much like my level of interest, amounted to zilch, but I got a good story or two out of it.

A thing to note: our basketball team sucked. Not that we didn’t try, not that we didn’t win a game or two, but we sincerely weren’t very good. To put it another way, Disney wasn’t about to use us for any inspirational children’s sport movies. We were so not-good, that when we won, I usually felt that it wasn’t exactly because of skill on our part, but that the opposing team was either having an off day or somehow shockingly worse than us.

But even a broken clock gets it right twice a day.

We were having a scrimmage match against another school and we were doing surprisingly well up to that point. My moment of glory came after they managed a basket on us, I had the ball out of bounds and was passing into our point guard, a fast wiry kid named James, when he suddenly passes it back to me. I was shocked, because I never run the ball up the court. As the tallest (and fattest- ahem “big boned”) kid on the team, and in fact the entire tiny school, I played center. That meant I was responsible for defense, rebounds, and not much else; definitely nothing that involved actually handling the ball. So I reacted accordingly.

“What the heck are you doing, dude?” I ask James loudly, flabbergasted.

“You take it up this time,” he replies calmly before continuing up the court. I follow him, dribbling the ball with clear uncertainty.

Dude,” I stress to emphasize my point, “I never do this though.” I don’t know if our coach privately asked him to do this so that I can practice, if it’s a setup for a prank or mean joke, or what, but I’m continuing this dialogue in the whole open air of the court, in front of him, the parents who are watching, the other team, everybody. “I’m no good at dribbling!”

“Don’t worry, you got this,” he says as we approach the half-court line, then separates. The opposing team was running a man-on-man defense, and I can see the kid who’s going to guard me, having listened to my whole bunch of complaining about how much I suck, closing in on me like a shark that’s smelled blood.

“James, man,” I continue to call after him as the kid closes to within a couple paces, “I can’t! I don’t know how to-” I cut myself off, pump-faking a one-handed pass to the right, which draws a lunging reaction from the kid guarding me. My teammates are positioned wide around the three-point line, so the key was wide open. I cut to my left then up the center for an easy layup, then I start back peddling down the court like the whole thing was an easy planned con, rather than a completely, artfully seized accident of opportunity.

But what makes it my peak, what really makes it an unforgettable moment, was the look on my classmate Kylie’s mom’s face in the audience: eyes wide, jaw on the freaking floor. Because all the yammering I was doing beforehand was completely legitimate – I NEVER run the ball, I never handle it, dribble defensively, none of it, and I’d been a pretty terrible player long as anyone had seen me in action. So no matter how surprised I might have been, it didn’t hold a candle to the upturned expectations of those watching.

I guess, looking back now, that it also seared into my mind the value of the “Fake it til you make it” school of doing things.

Who’da thunk it?