This is where 'everything else' goes.

What Do You Say?

Filed under: Baseball,Hockey,Life,Social Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 7:14 am April 18, 2009

The phone call ended a bit strangely: “I’m still short, I wear about a size 12, I am kinda blond now, and I’ll be wearing a white Nationals shirt and a blue jacket.”

This is strange because it was uttered by a friend I had known all my life. There was just the matter of the intervening nineteen years since I last saw her.

The nexus of the Facebook era and a trip to my family home brought about this strange interaction. Making it all the stranger was that our appointed meeting place was a subway platform. Oh, and one other thing. I was confronting one of my greatest personal shortcomings.

This past spring I rediscovered Facebook. I had been a member for quite a while, but my contact list remained very short. Someone cajoled me into poking around with it again, and in one short week, I had rediscovered dozens of childhood friends. My plans for a spring trip were certain to include a number of reunions. I arrived in town with a fistful of email addresses and phone numbers of people I hadn’t seen in ten or twenty or even thirty years.

And so it was with my friend with whom I would be reunited for the first time in nineteen years. When I arrived in town, I dialed my friend’s phone number. As I was dialing, my mind was flooded with thoughts of my friend’s mother. Her name was repeated over and over in my head. When my friend answered the phone, we exchanged the usual pleasantries, but immediately following that, my friend gave me the news: her mother had passed away a few weeks before. That I had been thinking of her mother as I dialed the phone was a very strange feeling. I would have called it coincidence, except that a very similar thing happened to me once before in my life; the first time even more spectacularly than this one.

We made plans to get together for lunch, but we changed them. We decided to go to the baseball game together. I would take the Metro down to her stop, and wait for her on the platform. As much as I was looking forward to our reunion, I was dreading it, too. I have no idea what to say to someone who has lost her mother. There are some things I don’t do particularly well. There are some things that I don’t do at all. This was one of them.

Back when I lived in the Washington, DC area, I played hockey on a men’s team. One of my teammates was a good friend – not only did we play hockey together, but I also hunted and fished with him and his father, and his mother was one of the people in my season ticket group for the Washington Capitals.

Shortly after I moved to Alaska, my hockey buddy’s father passed away. As I remember it now, it was very sudden and unexpected, and it happened during the holidays. I happened to return to Washington to visit my family for Christmas, and my parents told me of my friend’s loss. My mother suggested I call.

I was paralyzed. I had no idea what to say. I thought about what I would say. I thought about how awkward it would be. I wasn’t ready. I put it off for a day… and then two. Maybe tomorrow I will have some inspiration. Or courage.

Inspiration and courage never came, and I returned back to Alaska having abdicated my responsibility. I never called my hockey buddy. It wasn’t that I couldn’t have called from Alaska, either.  I let weeks become months, and months become years.

Essentially, I lost a friend because I was… a coward.

There was no turning back here. Not that I would want to; the benefit of twenty years of life experience is that you gain some maturity and coping skills. I knew I wasn’t going to be the utter idiot I had been with my hockey buddy… but the skill set hadn’t been tested in quite a while.

The day of the game, there was a bit of phone tag played. My insecurities about the situation played games with me as we traded voice mails. I imagined my friend finding the idea of going out so soon after her mother’s passing to be too much, and that I would get a message telling me that she was going to cancel. If she had, I would have totally understood. If I had been thinking, I would have known that this was the last thing she would do. Once she made a commitment to do something, there was little that one could do to distract her from that commitment.

She’s just weird that way.

Having a reunion and hugging someone that you haven’t seen in nineteen years – on a subway platform – isn’t nearly as strange as I imagined it to be. I think there are some friends that you just know so well and have such an affinity for that allows the years to melt away as if it had been nineteen days or even nineteen hours. We were so caught up in catching up that we actually got on the wrong train. We were going the right direction, but took the scenic route. It hardly mattered, and in fact, I had to make a concerted effort to pay attention to exactly where we were so we didn’t miss our stop.

We talked about everyone and everything we’d ever done. We laughed a lot. I was amazed at the details I remembered from way back. One Fourth of July she and I went to the National Mall to watch the fireworks. It was a pretty spectacular evening – there had been thunderstorms earlier, and we were soaked to the skin. As it started to get dark, the skies were filled with spectacular lightning, which brought cheers from the crowd as if it were part of the fireworks show. Finally the skies cleared and the fireworks started. They were spectacular, as they always are, and of course, the backdrop of our national monuments makes the celebration all the more amazing.

After the fireworks, we wandered back to the Metro, where thousands of us boarded the trains to head home. Every free inch of space on those cars was packed with people. Everyone was nose-to-nose with their friends and butt-to-butt with strangers. Nobody cared, it was just a part of the annual July Fourth ritual.

At the baseball game we talked about everything. As the night wore on, my friend’s voice got squeakier and more hoarse. As difficult as it was to hear her it was strangely familiar. I hadn’t remembered it at first, but it seems that whenever she and I did one of these outings, whether to a ballgame, or the fireworks, or the Preakness, she would lose her voice. I hadn’t remembered that detail until we were walking back to the Metro after the game.

As we walked down Half street there were some awkward pauses. I told her, we should get together again when I come to town in September. She said she’s really like that, and she’d like to get together with my parents, too. I told her they’d really like that.

We filed into the subway station, only to find ourselves on the wrong side of a temporary barrier. Our college-years sensibilities came to us as swimming comes to fish: we moved them and walked to the side of the platform we were supposed to be on. Moments after we did that, I heard one of the station police chastising others for doing the same thing.

Our train came, and the crowd poured onto the car. Every inch was occupied. Friends were nose-to-nose, and strangers were butt-to-butt. I said to her, “I’ve seen this movie before.” She laughed. We only had two stops on the train before she’d change trains and head off towards her home, and I would head back to Maryland and my parent’s place.

We didn’t say much during those few minutes on the train. She was looking off at nothing in particular. I looked at her face, and she had that look that you see right before someone starts to cry.

The train pulled into the station. She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. She said, “I’ll see you soon, sweetie” and walked off the train.

I said nothing.

What do you say?

Not Much in Common

Filed under: Social Media — Tags: , , , , — Wigi @ 8:01 pm February 25, 2009

I continue to be amazed by the power of Facebook. I got a friend request from someone that I went to junior high school with.

Those junior high years are crappy years anyway… We’re all trying to figure out the whole boy-girl thing… we’re awkward and silly. We’re shy, and often cruel. In other words, things are pretty much as they are now as middle-aged adults, but we’ve got more style now.

Anyway, this young lady that I heard from today… she and I had an interesting friendship that went absolutely nowhere. I think back on it now, and I think she probably liked me in that way that thirteen year-olds do. And I think I liked her, too. There was definitely a bit of tension between us – in a good way. I remember her coming up to me one day after school, and asking me if I knew what French kissing was.

We had almost nothing in common. While we lived in a part of the country that was both northern and southern – the Washington, DC area – my family was decidedly northern, and hers southern. I remember calling her home and speaking to her parents, and hearing that exotic southern drawl that wasn’t particularly common where we lived. She was also quite the movie fanatic, as was the rest of her family. This was the mid 1970′s, before the time of the VCR. Her parents had a home theatre, with video and film equipment, and they would watch first-run movies in their home. She could quote lines from the classics, had favorite actors – none of this would be all that unusual today, but it was spectacularly strange then.

She was an attractive gal back then. She wasn’t the beauty queen of the class, but she had very classic good looks, but she also had that southern belle aire about her. When I got her friend request today, I got to see a picture of her, and she’s become a stunningly beautiful woman.

In my last year of junior high, we would do the usual teenage thing and talk on the phone for an hour or so every few days… and of course, we would see each other in school. There was that painfully awkward flirting… but I could never get to the point where I could actually find enough in common with her for it to go from that clumsy friendship to that clumsy boyfriend-girlfriend thing.

When I wandered a little bit through her Facebook pages, it turns out we have a bit more in common now than we did when we were young… she’s a writer and that’s very cool. She does some work in the media, and that’s cool, too. She’s married, has some kids, and a grandkid, too.

The thing about Facebook is that it is smashing those time-and-distance barriers that we’ve put between us. As familiar as they seem, we’re different people today than we were way back then.

Still not much in common.

One of the Girls

Filed under: Hockey,Social Media,Sports — Tags: , , , , , — Wigi @ 8:27 pm February 6, 2009

I have been a hard core hockey fan for most of my life. I have had season tickets to two different NHL teams. I played hockey from about the age of thirteen. My love for hockey led me to work at ice rinks in high school and college, and much of my college education was paid for by driving a Zamboni.

I have coached hockey at a number of levels – mostly for adult recreational leagues – and I really like coaching. At that level, if you can develop a rapport with your team, you can make it worthwhile. If they don’t respect you as a coach, it can be frustrating.

I realized that coaching men was, for the most part, a waste of time, because all the guys thought they knew as much as I did. Turned out they didn’t, but what mattered was whether they respected me, and usually they didn’t.

When I first moved to Alaska, I found out that there was a very large women’s hockey group in Fairbanks, and some of my college friends played. They needed a coach, so I decided to volunteer.

I did this for several years, and I really enjoyed it. I had one team that was particularly fun, because while they weren’t terribly talented as individuals, they were willing to go to regular practices, and we were able to put together some disciplined play. Add to it that I was a grad student at the time and was a TA in a class where I had six NCAA hockey players as students, I was able to put together some very interesting practices.

My routine for the games was to get everyone dressed with about ten minutes before the game, and then go into the locker room and go over the game plan with them. Invariably someone would be late, so I would be talking about the upcoming game, and someone would come in and would be getting dressed while I was in there talking. I was always as respectful as I could be – if I had been asked to leave, I certainly would have… but there were some alcoves and nooks in the locker room, so a woman player could get dressed without exposing herself to me.

After the games I would follow the team into the locker room and talk for a minute or two, and then leave them to change… But some of the women would just start peeling jerseys and pads off with me standing right there. More than once I went to excuse myself as someone got a little more undressed than I thought they would be comfortable with, and I was immediately reassured that it was fine for me to stay.

I became very good friends with our goalie, and she was the glue of the team. She was a rather butch lesbian woman, but she knew me well enough to know that I got along very well in the women’s community. Our team exceeded expectations by quite a bit that season, and while we didn’t do too well in the post-season tournament, my team and I had developed quite a bond.

At the end of the season, my team decided to get me a gift, and I was touched. My friend, the goalie, got up before the entire team and handed me plaque with a team picture, and a certificate that made me an “Honorary Lesbian.” It got quite the chuckle from everyone.

My goalie friend ended up renting a room from me, and lived in my house for several years. I coached some other teams of hers, including one that won a statewide tournament.

When I moved to Anchorage, she ended up moving to Georgia, and we lost touch, though occasionally I would get an email or two from her.

Recently I started getting more active on Facebook, and my friend found me, and we started a bit of a correspondence. She is doing very well in Georgia. This evening, when I got home, I checked into Facebook, and my friend had sent me a request that I be included in her “My Girls” list.

So now I am “One of her Girls.”

It is actually kinda flattering.