Friday, May 14, 2010

The Divot

Boston, allergy season

Not all that long ago, my brother Sean and I were out for a road spin, decked out in full cycling regalia. The thing about cycling gear, to be blunt, is that there's no hiding anything. Ladies, you know what I mean (wink, wink!). Not that I have anything to, ahem, "show off," mind you. It's just the reality of Lycra. Whatever curves you've got will show, good curves as well as bad curves. Which is just a way of setting up this little anecdote about Sean and I pedaling along. He was drafting behind me when he suddenly asks, "What is up with your hip?"

I turned around, and in the most sarcastic tone I could muster, say: "Oh, this hip? You mean this dent right here?" I pointed to the distinct crease in my left flank. "You don't remember Boys Weekend at Chris's house, when I got hurt, and everyone said I was faking it?" And therein lies the story.

The Divot

I'm not a cross-country ski guy. Never have been. Too much work. I like gravity, and I like chairlifts. Cross-country skiing is for those skinny, endorphin-fueled endurance athletes who can push their heart rates into the stratosphere and just motor all day long. I'm not built that way. So it was with some trepidation that I agreed, during a festive Boys Weekend one frosty February at my brother Chris's place in Washington, N.H., to a cross-country ski outing through the woods back behind his house.

Now, we're not talking smooth, tracked cross-country trails here, like you might find at the Jackson Ski Touring Center. Nope, nothing even close. These were rough-cut logging roads (known colloquially in New Hampshire as Class VI highways!), better suited for ATVs and 4X4s. In fact, most World War II tanks would have trouble navigating some of these "roads." They're actually decent hiking trails during the warmer months, but during the thick of a Northeast winter, they're a minefield, loaded with booby traps lurking underneath a fresh cover of snow.

There were at least six of us, including me, my brothers Sean and Chris, Tommy Duval, and two of Chris's college cohorts, Bill Riley and Tom Paul. A really good group of guys. We all knew the evening would be a raucous boozefest, as we had an enormous pot of chili simmering and enough tequila to keep a Mexican border town looped for days. So, we decided we'd do something good for our bodies before pickling our livers. It was a beautiful day, if I recall (it's been a good 10 years now), cold but crisp. We all had our skinny skis and poles, and Chris picked out one of his favorite "highways" for a little exploration.

Admittedly, I had my doubts about our agenda. First, I've never been all that stable on cross-country skis, with my heels flopping all around. I've snowboarded and skied on alpine boards for years, and prefer the control that comes with having my heels locked down (again, requiring gravity's assistance). I understand the necessity to have a free heel during the push-and-glide movements of Nordic skiing, but the corresponding instability makes me a tad uncertain. Add to that the unpredictable terrain that Chris had selected, and I was sweating bullets long before I started red-lining my heart rate.

The first hour was relatively uneventful, though the ruts and troughs in the trail were challenging, as were the dozens of downed trees that crisscrossed our route. Plus, the road wasn't flat. The uphill portions were a slog, and the downhills, combined with those inadequate bindings and my dubious Nordic skills, were much too sketchy for my liking. Still, we made the best of it, laughing at each other and our plodding attempts to master the art of skinny skis. Some, like Sean and Tom Paul, actually looked pretty good, but most of us just flailed about, huffing and puffing and I'm certain making the task more difficult than it needed to be. Finally, the group agreed that the trails weren't going to improve, and we decided that both the chili and the tequila had probably aged to perfection, and any delay in consumption would be a crime against humanity. So we turned around. And, immediately, we faced a downhill that suddenly looked a whole lot more daunting than it had during the previous climb.

Eager to get back to Chris's house and the blender, I volunteered to go first. My enthusiasm proved my undoing. Despite a pizza wedge that would make any ski instructor proud, I kept picking up speed. Toward the bottom of the slope was a huge fallen pine suspended across the trail. For a split second, I envisioned impaling myself on one of its branches. So, I took the only option my oxygen-starved brain offered, which was a head-first dive. And damn if I didn't pull it off, pitching my 200-pound frame underneath the hulking trunk. And that's when a white flash of pain flashed through my body.

Hidden underneath the pristine blanket of snow was a tree stump, and I found it squarely with my left hip. I knew instantly I had done some serious damage. I got light-headed, my stomach started doing cartwheels, and my leg actually began convulsing. But to the guys at the top of the hill, it was a perfectly executed Pete Rose dive, and as I was writhing in pain, they howled and shouted encouragement. For a little while. Finally, Sean, an orthopedic surgeon, came to my aid. At worst, we thought it was a bad bruise (after all, I have plenty of padding in that particular area). Regardless, it was a long, painful trek back to Chris's house. And the guys -- being guys -- kept riding me, unconvinced it was anything serious. I tried convincing them otherwise, but they wouldn't hear of it. And, of course, the last thing any red-blooded male wants to be called is a wimp. Never has being the "butt" of others' jokes been so rife with irony.

That evening, I wasted no time in masking the pain with a few rounds of beer margaritas. I strapped a bag of ice to the hip, gulped down a few heavy-duty painkillers, and then let the tequila works its magic. The gang sat around for hours, sharing laughs, singing songs, telling tall tales, and generally getting shnockered. The overnight, though, was tough. Each time I rolled onto the hip, the stabbing pain woke me up. The next morning, unwilling to give in to the group's sophomoric taunts, I agreed to go on another cross-country outing, and even managed to fall on the same hip again, sending another bolt of agony through my gray matter. So much for discretion being the better part of valor.

The accompanying photo was taken two weeks after the fall. That's how long it took for the bruises to surface (and spread). Sorry if it's a little risque, but there's really no modest way to take that shot. Believe it or not, it looked even worse a few days afterward, but this is the only photographic evidence I kept. After a month, Lauri convinced me to go see my doctor. His diagnosis? I had sheared some of the muscles in my hip (that was the divot), and adjacent bump was the torn fibers curling into a ball. "Well," I thought, "that would explain why it felt like the top of my head was ripped off." Eventually, the colors subsided. But the divot remains.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Escape from Causeway Street ...

Boston, beautiful

When I first heard of the idea of a Bobby Orr statue being erected by the TD Garden, I immediately felt torn. On one hand, I truly believe Orr was the greatest hockey player -- the most revolutionary and most complete player -- to lace on a pair of skates. I grew up in New Jersey, a fan of the New York Rangers, and I still admired Bobby Orr, as painful as it was at times (he almost singlehandedly beat the Blueshirts in the 1972 Stanley Cup finals). He could do anything on the ice -- pass, score, skate, defend, fight -- and he did it with a disciplined fury, with unmatched grace, and with humility. If there was ever a Bruin deserving of the honor of being cast in bronze, it's the pride of Parry Sound.

On the other hand, knowing the marketing types that have infiltrated not only the Boston Bruins, but all of big-time professional sports, this kind of grand, public display smacks of self-serving, self-important self-promotion. Even Orr, the consummate professional, was never one to seek the limelight, and was more than likely a little embarrassed by all the hoopla surrounding the unveiling of the above statue yesterday. That's one of the reasons we loved him.

Orr was always about "team." He lived and died with each win and each loss. The current Bruins owners are about ticket sales, beer and hot dog sales (at ridiculous prices), and profits. They erect a statue that symbolizes all that was once right with the franchise, unaware how it shines a very bright light on their own shortcomings. The statue captures Orr in mid-flight, having been upended after scoring one of the franchise's biggest goal, an overtime winner that beat the St. Louis Blues in 1970 and secured Boston's first Stanley Cup in 29 years. It's now been 38 years since the Cup has returned to Boston (a period highlighted by former Bruin great Ray Bourque visiting with the Cup he won in Colorado, a heartfelt tribute to his fans, and an absolute dagger to the hearts of Harry Sinden and the Jacobs family).

Last year, the Bruins cruised through the regular season with one of the best records in the NHL, but stumbled badly in the playoffs, getting knocked out by Carolina in the second round. This year's squad, beset by injuries and anemic goal-scoring, barely squeezed into the playoffs. But they've proved a resilient bunch, and edged Buffalo in the first round before taking a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia. They returned home Monday, still holding a commanding 3-1 series lead, when the Jacobs family decided to unveil the Orr statue, 40 years to the day that Bobby converted Derek Sanderson's slick behind-the-net pass.

Inexplicably, the Bruins then proceeded to stink out the joint, getting throttled by Philadelphia in their own building. It was as if the hockey gods decided that no team owned by Jeremy Jacobs would benefit from trying to capitalize on Orr's good name and unblemished character. After last night's embarrassing 4-0 blow-out loss to the Flyers, summarized by Dennis "Man Cave" Wideman getting spun around with a broken stick and then simply watching as Simon Gagne rang up Philly's fourth goal, I thought of the Orr statue. What would he have thought about the Bruins' performance, the way they simply failed to show up? Funny ... as I took a look at the accompanying photo, Orr doesn't seem to be celebrating. He seems to be screaming: "Get me out of here!!!"

Who could blame him?