Oldtimers

Men’s hockey dressing rooms are the last havens left in this country battling the scourge of political correctness. I’m talking Old Timers now, because that’s what I am. I can’t say that I still feel like I’m twenty five years old because that’s a long time ago. And I sure as hell don’t look like I’m twenty five. There’s a constant reminder of that every time I look in the mirror. Ouch.
But hockey brings out frank, refreshing and honest conversation among people and it’s not just among Canadians. Ask Brian Burke. And I can even vouch for what goes on in the shinny confines of a non-traditional hockey country such as France. We were over there in 1995-96 on a teaching exchange and I managed to wangle myself onto a team in the French National League as the only Canadian permitted. I was thirty nine years old, well beyond my salad days. I remember a couple of incidents which reminded me that my chronological counter had surpassed my teammates. We were playing in Nice, which had a beautiful building surrounded by glass walls on the top level, where the rink was situated. It provided a beautiful view of the lights and the skyline of Nice, an interesting diversion, especially if the game was not going too well. Before suiting up for the night’s match a large crowd jammed into the elevator, including some of the opposition players and their girlfriends. One of the fairer sex, glancing about the enclosed space, caught my eye. Immediately she learned over and in a stage whisper she made her observation to her boyfriend. “My God, they’re an old team !” I was even wearing a hat at the time.
And it’s not just the opposition which relishes the non-politically correct pastime of expressing brutally frank opinions. I was at least ten years older than the next oldest player on the team, also a Canadian but one who was the possessor of a French passport. Most of the others were in their early twenties. I’d run out of tape while adjusting my shin pads and innocently asked Fabien, sitting right beside me, if I could borrow a small amount. Fabien was eighteen years old. He looked over and hesitated, perhaps feeling that hockey tape, expensive in France, would be wasted on a thirty nine year old who might drop dead of a heart attack on his next shift. He demurred, dropping the tape quickly into his bag as if concealing the fact that it had ever existed.
The shifty manoeuvre was not lost on Christophe, a twenty six year old defenseman sitting across the room. “Pauvre Perras,” he sympathized. Frenchmen always address each other using the last name. “These young guys today have no respect for their elders. Give the old boy some tape, Fabien. He’s just about an historical monument.”
And today, back in my homeland, feelings in the dressing room have no better chances of being spared. I hardly know the last names of most of the guys on the four different teams on which I play. Don’t know what their job is, how many kids they have or whether they’re married or not. It doesn’t matter. No one is allowed to talk on at any length about their kids’ accomplishments, their own ailments, or even about how they scored their last goal. Such indulgence would only be met with a torrent of verbal abuse. What a glorious refreshing escape from office politics or cocktail party chatter. Even the team names are often self-deprecating. In our Rusty Blades league we happen to have both Roger Smith, the ex-CTV news correspondent and Jim Munson, a member of the much-pilloried Senate. Very good friends from their days of both being television correspondents in London and Beijing, they are known to still stay in very close contact. Soon after one game, sitting in a local watering hole, Roger had mentioned that he was waiting on a phone call from his daughter who would soon be returning to Ottawa after a semester at McGill University. Sitting on the other side of me was Gary, who called himself the Rocket, because he was anything but. Gary didn’t know a thing about Roger’s impending call. When the cellphone went off Gary leaned over and whispered, “It’s probably Munson.” Roger answered his call.
“Hello darling,” he said, speaking loudly enough so that Gary the so-called Rocket could overhear.
A fiendish grin spread across Gary’s weathered face. “It’s Munson”, he chortled loudly, signalling the waitress to bring another beer.

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