There’s nothing quite like a hockey game to make me realize how big Yale is. Here’s this giant stadium, this vast, seething mass of puffy-jacketed student life, and I know — maybe three of these people?
It’s like reading a book in Croatian. “Aha!” I might say, were I to read such a book. “Hamburger. This word I know! ‘Sam jeo hamburger, a zatim povraćao,’ however — couldn’t tell you.”
But this crowd! When I do plays or shows, I’m happy if 70 off-campus rapscallions file into an 80-person theater. This makes me feel like my accomplishments are reaching a wider audience and somehow transforming the world. But turns out that nothing I do can quite reach the metamorphic beauty of slamming someone into a thermoplastic panel in an armored brawl over a small piece of rubber. Literally hordes of people turn out for these things. I could found a small nation-state if I hijacked a Zamboni with a microphone and said something rabble-rousing.
But I understand. I really do. I love hockey. I grew up watching my brother play hockey, which meant bundling up in unflattering sweaters to watch his matches, burning the roof of my mouth with shitty hot chocolate and occasionally stealing his hockey sticks to beat up my friends. “Dogma”-style.
Of course, middle schoolers like my brother play perhaps the purest form of hockey. They don’t fight, they don’t curse, but most importantly, they can’t really skate. When older folks play hockey, they glide over the rink, backwards, forwards, upside down. These guys could roll a fucking cartwheel on the ice. When middle schoolers play, you KNOW they’re on ice. They slip. They fall. They fall hard. Because ice is hard, and skating is difficult.
You forget these things if all you do is watch college hockey. No one falls quite like that in normal sports, unless you’re me playing soccer. In which case you fall like that, but it’s even more awkward-looking, and there’s usually a much smaller person accidentally crushed beneath you. And you curse the day your high school ever required sports, and then put you on a coed training team with sixth-grade girls who weigh about one-seventh as much as you do. It’s okay, we’re friends now. Just got off to a rough start.
People who watch middle school hockey also usually don’t want to slaughter the other team, their families and their pets. I’m sure there are exceptions, because this is a country where people shoot their TV’s when Bristol Palin comes on the air. But on the whole, the hockey parents with whom I shared the bleachers when I was a youngster would be content cutting off the opposing minivans in the parking lot and flipping them a half-hearted bird.
But Yale hockey? Before I went, I had no idea where Clarkson University was. It sounds kind of bookish, like it might have a strong creative writing program. I don’t know. By about 20 minutes into the game, my fellow spectators and I had not only iPhoned the place (Potsdam, N.Y.), but if someone had proposed that we march on it, burn it, sow the ruins with salt and taken whatever remained for a new Peabody exhibit, I would have been the first to sign up. I HATED the fucking place. Which is scary, in retrospect, because I don’t usually like to think of myself as someone who hates places or people, or someone who pillages places or people. But Lord help any place that plays Yale in hockey. I will Rome the shit out of their Carthage. I will rock their scissors.
The sentence in the first paragraph means, “I ate a hamburger, and then vomited,” at least according to Google Translate. I didn’t in fact do that, because I’m a vegetarian, but I figured I couldn’t end this view without telling you. That would be like promising undergraduates that you would be their English TA, but in reality just hang out in Starbucks and sleep with coeds.