This week, for Things I Love, I've picked out some books that were extremely influential to me in one way or another. Yesterday, I got my geek on. Today, I'm putting on the foil, coach.
I was never an athletic kid, as I've documented clearly (and painfully). When I was 16, though, I got it into my head that I really wanted to play hockey. I guess the chance of injury in baseball just wasn't great enough, or something.
I wasn't that big, so defense was out, I wasn't that strong, so offense was out. I was quick and flexible, though, so I decided to get some gear and learn how to be a goalie.
I know, I know. The thing is, over the years I've learned that some of us were just born to be goalies, and it's something that can't really be explained to people who haven't blocked a net in some sport. In fact, we can't even explain it to each other; it's just something we do because we can't not do it.
What makes this seemingly insane decision kind of noteworthy is that I was a scrawny geek who did all of this while living in Los Angeles, which isn't exactly known as a hockey town. Many of the rinks we played on were only half-jokingly compared to driveways with crushed ice thrown over them (Van Nuys, anyone?) or so small it was a real possibility that a goalie could score a goal for his team (North Hollywood, anyone?)
I loved hockey with a fever that no amount of cowbell could cure. The only thing I liked more than playing hockey was watching it, and when I couldn't watch it, I read about it. Because I had a subscription to The Hockey News. Which was delivered to my house in Los Angeles.
I wish I could remember exactly how I came upon the book Open Net, by George Plimpton. I think my dad may have given it to me, and even though I'm not sure, I'm going to imagine that it happened this way:
I was sitting in my bedroom, playing Dark Castle on my Mac while Morrissey sang songs about how nobody understood me.
There was a soft knock at the door, and then it opened.
"Do you have a minute?" My dad said.
"Hold on." I clicked my mouse furiously, throwing rocks at divebombing birds. I miscalculated and my little adventurer guy Duncan died. It was my fault, and I knew it was my fault, but I sighed heavily and acted like he'd messed me up. I dramatically pushed my hair out of my face and turned around. My dad held something behind his back.
"I found this book that I think you'll like. It was written by a journalist who would play professional sports and then write about them. He played baseball, football, golf, and …" he revealed the book. The cover showed a familiar-looking guy wearing a Boston Bruins jersey. "…he also played hockey with the Boston Bruins."
He handed the book to me. I realized that the guy on the cover was the same guy who was in all those Intellivision commercials and hosted Mousterpiece Theater, a show I wouldn't ever admit still loving to my peers.
"He played goalie, just like you," my dad said, "so I thought you would like it."
My carefully-crafted appearance of bored indifference cracked and fell apart. I spent a lot of time convincing myself that my parents didn't get me and didn't know anything about me, but with one gesture and six words, my dad turned that all upside down.
"Wow, that's really cool! Thanks, dad!" I forgot to be sullen, stood up and hugged him. It meant more to me than I could express that my dad had given me something like that, which he knew would really matter to me. I quit my game, opened the book, and read until it was time for dinner. After dinner, I read it until I had to learn lines for Star Trek, and then I took it with me to the set the next day. In fact, I took it with me everywhere, until I finished it the following week. I loved it so much, I read it again a few months later, and again about a year after that.
I loved how George Plimpton could transport me right between the pipes with him. I loved how he could turn a phrase, and how he always wrote like we were equals. I wondered if, some day, I'd be able to write about cool stuff that I'd done.
In a part of my mind that I didn't even know was there, a seed was planted and, very slowly, began to grow.
You know, now that I think about it … not that it matters, but most of that is true.
Also, I would be greatly remiss if I did not link to this wonderful song about George Plimpton by Jonathan Coulton.
Tomorrow: the tenth dimension