Web Editor Megan just sent me this story from Slate, about the ways romance unfolds in a bookstore culture. It’s fun, not just to find metaphors for our lives in our lives (I love the sensual idea of a book’s “spine”), but also to simplify our lives into little subcultures that add shades of meaning to our behavior. As though our lives have a set theme and a genre (see also: Judi Gallagher’s recent blog about “food relativity”). Today’s genre? Romance.
I tried to come up with some themes and settings, a la the bookstore. Backstage is one—it’s where Ma and Pa met and lived for nigh onto five decades, navigating the contrasts of actor and character, on-stage and off, scripted or no. Music lovers? High Fidelity plays through the romantic side of that subculture pretty thoroughly. Foodies? Is there something of foodie romance in the fleeting experience of a meal, so much the opposite of an unchanging book? Writers? All neuroses akimbo…
Of course, my story (with CCB) is locker room romance. So I wonder, what does that say about a person? What kinds of romantic symbols are there between the boards? What relationship-seeking behaviors occur in a hockey locker room? If we posted little index cards on the walls (like romance-seekers do in one of the bookstores mentioned), what would they say? “Goalie seeking skater, must prefer extra padding”? “D-to-D: Negative plus/minus need not reply”? “Center wants to score; needs forward to assist”?
Me and CCB: A romance forged in locker room funk.
The things we read into, like positions or equipment. Defensemen are noble; goalies, insane. No cage? Ooh, the dangerous type. Roller hockey pants? Meh, never mind.
The nuance of pursuing a hockey teammate is hidden in the bombast of the locker room, the unrestrained vulgarity, the simplistic idea of winning and losing. Not to mention, you’re in your underwear and the whole place—you, your romantic interest, and everyone else included—stinks to high heaven: bleach, mildew, sweat. Visceral? Yes. Romantic? Well, it’s a subculture, to be sure.
And in all that, no matter how much you jokingly challenge the size of your goalie’s “stick” or describe the (imagined) sexual improprieties of your line-mate (or her mother), the only faux pas is earnestness. It kills the mood—and it leaves you bleeding in a shark tank.
The upside of all that? Self-consciousness is out the window. You don’t waste energy putting on airs when your love interest knows what your hockey bag smells like.
Lasting relationships, too, are interwoven with the sport. Lefty and Captain Beerslinger maintain healthy independence and accept that they can’t play on the same line together; Lefty, quite simply, would kill him. (I often recount one time Capt. BS came to the bench as Lefty was jumping onto the ice. In that brief encounter, Lefty shouted a string of expletives regarding her husband’s on-ice performance. As she skated off, he sat down, turned to me, grinning, and declared happily, “My wife loves me.”) No matter the nature of the rapport, a teammate is a sacred thing. Their wedding took place under the lightning bolt structure at the St. Pete Times Forum, through a hockey-stick salute, a marriage reflecting the camaraderie of the sport.
I like playing on CCB’s line: He’s a good skater, rarely mouthy, with a killer shot that he’s careful not to unleash if I’m in front of the net, and we’ve got a great shot/pass tip play that we execute with the kind of precision timing that only comes from spending countless hours on the couch together. On the other hand, Goalie J requests our on-ice separation. “He looks to pass to you too much,” he says. “He needs to shoot.” Is there a thing as too much generosity, risking your identity in service to another? I make sacrifices too—gladly serving a bench minor for the sake of a stronger shorthanded lineup.
Like a relationship, hockey is forever a work in progress. The satisfaction of a cleanly won faceoff, the struggles in the corner that leave you breathless but more in shape, the give-and-gos and well-timed line changes, and those occasional moments of sheer, ecstatic, magical perfection, when everything happens just right. The point is that you always look forward to the next game, the next win, the magic that’s yet to come. And in the meantime, you enjoy the little things, even the stench.