Walleye Hockey

Hit Somebody

A Toledo Sports Arena Hockey Story by Chuck Schmitt

    That old yellowed moon up there is reminding me of a night in my life when
I was sitting in a musty attic under a frosty light bulb reading tattered letters
and looking at the faded photographs-- time-traveling by using the artificial
memories of days long-past. Perhaps tonight is the night of the nostalgic
moon and maybe this story is about those olden days of yore-- about today.

We're all fording rivers and crossing highways on life's journey through itself.
 The flaring red and impatient brake lights on the cars ahead of me are
clear warning that our rickety-old lift-bridge is sticking open again. A u-turn is
sending me onto Toledo's brightly-lit streets. Beneath the glare of the emptied
and electrified buildings my car is racing toward the highest level bridge
in town-- the Chief Tecumseh bridge (formerly know as the General "Mad"
Anthony Wayne bridge) more recently renamed however out of the concern for
political correctness and in honoring one of the area's Native American heroes.

Gravity's rainbow is pressing me back into my seat and my car is climbing
the blue arched bridge. Off in the distant skies a handful of eternal flames are
licking at the crispified air. Farther away, a like amount of TV and radio antennas
are sparkling-up the twilight skies and shooting invisible microwave energies
out across the vast and flattened countryside and into those lake freighters at sea.
    From high above. at the bridge's crescent. I'm seeing that our city is all aglow and
pulsating with a vibrating energy. Up over the hump and then free-wheeling-it on down
like it's a soapbox derby's momentary thrill-- I'm free-falling into Toledo's foggy
bottomed eastside. My heater's fan is blowing-in a mixture of slightly skunkish 
aromas from the freshly brewing oil refineries afoot. Instead of making a
left turn at the Front and Main intersections toward the Sports Arena I'm hooking
a right and parking it under a streetlamp in between two Harleys-- rationalizing that
car thieves won't frequent biker bars and that the motorcycle-men aren't wanting
my pitiful bucket-of-bolts. I'm opting for locking and leaving it in the safety of
plain sight-- thusly saving the Sports Arena's parking fees. Walking briskly past the
brightly gleaming McDonald's restaurant and the lit-up British Petroleum station
and passing under the shadows of the abandoned railroad trestle I am reminded
of the many times I've come this way before-- Ringling Brothers and Stars on Ice,
Globe-trotters and bloodified boxers, fake wrestlers and really-really tough guys--
boats and motorhomes, rockers and car-a-ramas of course. This ramshackled old
auditorium was here long before I came around and is surely by now long past it's due.
 It's just a rusting hockey rink though, masquerading as the crossroads of the world.

My ticket says I'm seated in number seven in the seventh section-- my lucky
numbers-- how could I go wrong? Worming my way toward my section I'm
elbow-to-elbow with this mass of Toledo's humanity. We're all here doing the
Soupy shuffle around the ring's outer perimeters. Hockey fans with fists full
of popcorn and waxed paper cups of cold beer and crushed ice soda-pops--
cotton candies and bulbous hot dogs slathered-up with gobs of mustard,
catsup and pickle relish-- all falling to the sticky floors and being swept away
by the untold thousands of leathered soles of our meandering hockey horde.
One night rent-a-cops and black shirted deputies are barring the battered
blue steel doors against potential interlopers. The show's about to begin.

Once inside the Sports Arena anybody is adequately surmising that this is
neither a heavy-metal nor a rap crowd. Though there are an inordinate
number of really cute girls here tonight-- none of them having any jackets
or coats. Where are their coats? They're looking so cool and comfortable
while everybody else here is dressing warmly for this nippy night.
These gaily-garbed girls are wearing virtually nothing at all.
Well, almost nothing. Didn't I see that lacy-silk outfit in the Victoria's
Secret window at the mall? Can these be Toledo girls? This must be the
place. If this is the city's tenderloin district a guy could have his pick of
the chicks-- a combination of lean white and dark meats cut close to the
bone with sweet dressings, creamy gravies and narrowly plucked wings. The
Colonel's special finger-lickin' good secret recipe. Add a dash of hot sauce
and take a bucketful home to the gang. Slaw or hot buttered buns anyone?

 My lucky ticket lands me smack dab in the middle of these hockey
groupies situated behind our team's bench. The stands are loaded with
these cutie-pied girls hovering and hanging out all over our well padded
 players. Some really hanging out. The girl next to me is a hockey aficionado
and starts joking around with me by wanting me to tell her some of the
hockey terms that I know. I'm bumbling for words and they're not coming.
"Well, then..." she starts, " How about... How many periods are there?"
 Flustered, I say "Four-- oops, I mean three." As the kidding and
questioning continues I'm thinking that she's thinking that I'm knowing more
about this sport than I really do. Checking? Cross-checking? Icing the puck?
Shorthanded? Putting the biscuit in the basket? As the teams are skating out onto the
 freshly Zambonied ice the steel girdered rafters are shuddering from the smell of the
smokers and the roar of the crowd-- drowning out my shrugs full of half-asked answers.

Near the end of the first period the players are beating-up one another.
Leaving my seat early and squeezing my way to the lavatories and back,
I'm thwarted by the cops now blocking a bevy of gals pawing-out at the
players heading to the locker rooms. A cutie in a halter-top with goose
bumps the size of wine corks is calling out to one of the guys with
longer locks "Nice hair, babe." This could be Danny's of Windsor
or the Chippendale's hunk-off.

I'm seated for the intermission's festivities and watching a
lively girl out on the ice slapping hockey pucks into a smallish
opening and winning prizes. The Edison is tonight's sponsor and she is
awarded a pair of lightning bugged yellow baseball caps which she is tossing up
to strangers in the stands who in turn are sending them right back out onto the
ice. An Edison guy in an electric yellow t-shirt is retrieving the caps and throwing
them back at the crowd. With dozens more caps tucked under his arms he's
now sailing them like Frisbees one-by-one at the fans. Faster than he can get
and toss them they are cast back like hot nuclear rods onto the frozen
floor making it look like the top of an icy birdbath laden with lifeless lightning bugs.

Any questions we might have are answered by the garbled and over amplified
announcer's voice informing us that "Tonight's game is being brought to you
by your friends at the Edison. We here at the..." The crowd's hissing and
booing are overriding the guy's main message and forcing him to
shut-the-hockey-puck-up. A goofy character costumed as a firefly with
wobbling and springing antennae is retrieving the discarded yellow caps.
The Zamboni-man is chugging his machine into life-- cleaning and refreezing
the slushy traces and remaking our ice world anew for our emerging skaters.

The game is hard fought and violent. Players are helping players off of
the ice while others are coming forward like knights into battle.
In between the thumpings and the bumpings the air is thick with the
swishing and the slashing sounds of honed hockey sticks and of the
razor sharp skating blades seeking out exposed flesh. The visceral emotion
of it all. The cuties, though, seem to be getting-off on the goings-on.
With an overly exuberant fan tossing a few ice cubes onto the backs of the
opposing team, the players are turning like enraged animals-- untamed lions
and tigers without chains-- scraping and clawing at the edges of the Lexan
panels and just aching for a fight-- stopping time. Up in the stands people are
pointing towards this guy. Players are restraining players and the coaches are
waving their hands about wildly. How could anything this awful happen?
Who'd dare be casting ice cubes our way? What kind of wet crap this is.
 Instantly as if commanded by the spirit of Gunther Gabel Williams himself the
players are quickly retracting their claws and returning to their given stools. 
Black-shirted deputies single-file-it up the stairs-- nabbing the poor fool
and bouncing his head back and forth against the steely-backed seats--
demonstrating for everyone's edification  that they aren't merely lackeys
guarding latched doors anymore-- they are, indeed, tough players too.

Thrashing and bashing him from side-to-side and on-out the clanging doors he
disappears from sight and sound but not from mind. Perhaps he'd be freed by
morning's light. Though tonight, he belongs to them-- locked-up, frisked-down and
mug-shot into a hard-board box-- he's in the jailhouse now. "Oops, sorry about that,
Max, we'd've thought that you'd've brought along your collision gear tonight."

With a final blasting of the horns and with no time left on the clocks our first night of
hockey is called. There are some winners here tonight and there are some losers. The
cute birds, though, are flocking now into the outstretched limbs of the rent-a-cops--
a human cage restraining the chicks from the roosters bound for the raw showers.

Overhead the full moon is still a golden light-bulb illuminating the
 deep and dankly darkened waters of the treacherous Maumee River--
the orb is a slowly spinning cue ball set upon a glimmering slate-black table.
The electric lights from the warmed and emptied skyscrapers and the
 slightly traveled roadways are still aglow like Disney's Tomorrowland.
All-too-soon today becomes tomorrow and we can't try holding back the
dawn's morning light. We light our nights for the ghosts of time, and for
the streetwalkers and push-carters who are oblivious to our irrational fears
of being home before dark, and of being robbed, beaten, mugged or brutalized. 

Mushroom clouds of burnt sienna orange are spewing-forth from the flaming
refinery stacks and reflecting back upon the river's sinuously flowing waters--
enough energy in our rivers for lighting-up our life, and for keeping us safe
and warm through day and night. Wasted and untapped resources.
The river, like time itself-- slipping-on past and forevermore lost.
Non-renewable, non-recyclable and nevermore passing this way again.

Off in the cold distance the cabled bridge is an incandescent necklace strung under our
paling moon-- a  pearl-- a link in our chain of lives--a physical and psychological connecting
point keeping us together and separating us from one other.  A beacon in our life.

What of the groupies though? Will they be warm and tender, alright?
Will our Ice-cube Man sleep soundly and tight in his cans of stewing drunks
and his bottles of torrid Tabasco dreams? Are the discarded glowbug caps
all nestled-away safely on the tops of their heads? Will those last ones out 
be mopping-up the floors,
 bolting-fast the doors and dowsing the lights?

 Published in AdVENTURE Magazine 1993
(abridged 2009)


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