When I was a kid I had the misfortune of having an older sister who liked to "fight my battles." I questioned her motives, wondering if it wasn't so much to protect her kin or because she enjoyed the confrontations. I'm guessing it was more of the latter; though she has long since lost the bloodthirst for physical confrontation, she still enjoys the occasional verbal tête à tête.
What this translated into for Prego were the additional ass-kickings that ensued.
"Your sister's not (punch) here to save your ass now, f*ck-face (kick)."
Eventually, the ass kickings stopped. My sister lost interest and I actually fought back once. It was in Venezuela, circa 1983 when a new kid in the neighbourhood who wanted to prove himself rang the doorbell at my friend's house, announcing "I heard you wanted to fight," right before he swung a punch to the side of my head. The vision in my right eye blurred at the blow while something inside me snapped. I lunged at the *sshole with everything I could muster, catching him off-guard. I forgot how we were finally separated, but for weeks after the fight, the kid would simply walk by me and give me a nod, or a "What's up?"
In a way, that was my personal ass kicker's debutante ball, because I don't think I had to fight anymore after that. Yeah, I got jumped by a Guido in Buffalo around 1987, but I pretty much avoided conflicts altogether. I usually like to keep it that way, unless I'm wearing skates.
I don't know what it is about hockey, but every once in a while the tempers flare. Knowing that I'm donning protective equipment and a cage across my face might add to my bravado, so occasionally I get involved in a tussle. Maybe that's why I find myself near the top of the league in penalty minutes (PIM).
Usually, I find myself on the scoresheet with a couple of tripping or hooking calls. Thursday night, however, I racked some up in a most un-Prego fashion. One of the opposing players took exception to me tying him up in front of my goalie to prevent him from digging up a rebound and scoring. He decides to push back violently with his elbows. I shove back.
The next thing I know, I've got a face full of irate, yelling god knows what - to which I reply, "F*ck you," with a quick gloved swat to his cage.
"Grrrrrrraaaaaaawrrrr! I'm going to f*cking kill you!" he says, as he lunges at me over his teammates' shoulders.
"Go ahead," was my calm reply.
"I'm right here!" he continues, as we are separated by the officials and other players.
As I start skating towards the penalty box, the referee looks at me and points in the other direction.
"You're gone," he explains. "Game misconduct."
One of the guys on the other team explains succinctly "Punch in the face. Bye-bye, f*cking *sshole."
My nemesis remained on the ice. Despite the life threatening remarks and his part in the mêlée, I had thrown the only punch, and was thus ejected. I looked at the clock to see only nine minutes had elapsed. Worse yet, I'd only skated three shifts. As I entered the locker room, I felt quite alone - just me and some empty hockey bags. Though I hadn't even broken a sweat yet, I took a shower and went back to watch the rest of the game.
A couple of my teammates glanced over the glass, smiled or gave me a nod.
"What'd you do, take a psycho pill today?" asked Higgins.
It was a long game to watch, given the fact that ordinarily I'd be participating. I obviously hoped my team would win, making my blowout worthwhile somehow.
At the end of the game, the teams shake hands. I stood at the entrance to the rink and, who should come skating towards me but the same gentleman with whom I'd tangled. I braced myself for the worst, figuring out what to do if things got ugly again. As soon as he was about ten feet from me a wide smile came across his face as he extended his hand.
I took his hand and we gave each other a friendly hug.
"It's hockey, man," I told him.
"Good game," he replies.
(Yeah. All f*cking nine minutes of it.)
Have I joined the ranks of Stu Grimson, Bobby Probert, Joey Kocur or Dave "Tiger" Williams? Not quite. Doubtfully. Maybe I just joined the ranks of my sister. She was on to something.