Archive for December, 2010

Merry Christmas, Detroit or Take the Homeless Skating

December 21, 2010

Tim could hardly be called tiny but the name sort of stuck with Tim since he didn’t hit puberty until late in high school.  As the saying goes, Tiny’s nut did not drop until late in adolescence.  Tiny or Tim as his mother called him, was short and had a high pitched voice until senior year of high school.  It was at that time that Tiny joined the ranks of all the other boys who were becoming men.

            Tiny grew up in suburban Detroit and played ice hockey from kindergarten through juniors when he finally came to grips with the fact that he was good and not great and that professional hockey was not going to be his vocation.  Tiny went to the University of Michigan, became an accountant, found a job and started a family in Los Angeles before being moved back by his company to suburban Detroit.

            Saying that he was born and raised in Detroit was not a source of pride to Tiny.  He felt as though he had not really gone very far in life by returning to a town that seemed to have crumbled, decayed and stagnated through the years.  Returning to Detroit seemed to be a punishment to Tiny who was squeezed out in the running to climb a rung up the ladder of his company’s firm.  Instead his boss gave him a ho-hum review and gave him the choice of losing his job or move to Detroit.  Tiny opted to keep his job and move to Detroit.

            For anyone that ever had to move from Los Angeles to Detroit and really spent some time in inner city Detroit where neighborhoods gave way to prairie and trees grew through the roofs of abandon homes that were not burned down or decayed to pieces, Detroit could be quite surreal.  Tiny was determined to put in his time for his company that was housed in the General Motors Renaissance Center along the banks of the Detroit River in the heart of downtown Detroit.  Tiny bought a condominium on Lafayette which was walking distance from the Renaissance Center.  He didn’t want his family to get the feeling of permanence.  Condominiums seem more transient than single family homes at least Tiny felt this was the case. 

            Tiny’s wife was sort of indifferent to Detroit being a native Angelino who thought places like Michigan was somewhere on the east coast.  It had to be since it was in the Eastern Time zone, right?  Susan exercised profusely and shuttled their sons to hockey practice up in Troy, some fifteen miles north of the city to play for Little Caesar’s.  Tiny, when he wasn’t working, spent a great deal of his own free time late at night playing men’s league hockey or rat hockey in well to-do towns north and west of Detroit.  When Tiny told fellow hockey mates that he lived in 313, most were quite stunned.

            It was the night before Christmas Eve that Tiny went with some of his buddies that were Detroit Firemen to play in a fund raising tournament in Windsor, Ontario.  Tiny sent his wife Susan alone with their two boys to a holiday tournament outside of Toronto and opted to play hockey himself. 

            The tournament was uneventful for Tiny.  He played defense and had a few assists and allowed a few bad goals to happen by not tying up his man.  He had a few push matches in front of his goalie, had a good sweat and then returned with the team to downtown Detroit to finish a night of male bonding; play hockey, drink, watch hockey, drink, gamble and drink some more and then possibly hit a strip club, pass out, return home hung over and be low keyed and a family man on Christmas Eve.

            Tiny stood out in front of a downtown watering hole called the Old Shillelagh after watching the Detroit Red Wings play at Joe Louis Arena.  A digital display could be seen from the street letting everyone know that only eight two days were left until St. Patrick’s Day or possibly one hundred days left of potential winter weather before the Tigers would return to Comerica Park as a sure sign of summer.

            Tiny smoked a large cigar that dangled out of the corner of his mouth like a large phallic symbol.  Smoking indoors was only allowed in casinos and so the men stood on Monroe Street smoking, laughing and talking.  A disheveled looking black man with rags hanging off of him and leathery exposed hands asked the smoking men if they had any change to spare.  The man wouldn’t take no for an answer.

            “Its Christmas y’all…  Y’ain’t got some spare change so I kin buy me a hamburger and a little water?  Come ahn y’all…  Find it in y’heart t’help a man who ain’t gotta dime.”

            Tiny listened to the man and he thought about how he felt trapped in a Detroit that was so different than the city his father had worked as an assembly line worker for General Motors from the end of World War II until 1984.  Tiny’s father retired before he was let go.  He outlasted the change that was coming.  Tiny’s rant was angry, racist and drunk.  Even his fellow hockey mates were surprised by his words even though they may not have disagreed with him.

            “This is your fucking Detroit…  Since the riots and Coleman Young, you people have done nothing but run this city into the fucking shitter and you hold your hand out and ask people like us to give you more.  Well you got the whole fucking city to yourselves.  Go ask one of your own to give you some fucking change…  I could use a change.  Change this town back to a place where people might want to live.”

            The man looked at Tiny with a blank stare and then shuffled off into the night.  Tiny went back in and had a few more pints of Guinness before deciding to go to his parent’s home rather than go on to play poker at the Greektown Casino and crash at the Greektown Hotel with his teammates.  Tiny would have stayed but he needed to let his parent’s dog out at his boyhood home in Warren since his parents were visiting Tiny’s brother and his family in Akron, Ohio.

            Tiny blared Van Halen on his fabulous sound system in his Range Rover as he sped north on interstate 75.  The thought came to Tiny to piss on the abandon Fisher Body 21 that once made Cadillac limousines. It was symbolic.  Tiny needed to piss but he was going to piss on the symbol of what Detroit had become and was mired in. The building stood abandoned with all the windows smashed out of it, covered in graffiti and home to drug addicts and homeless. It was Detroit’s Chernobyl.  Snow had begun to gently fall as Tiny took the interstate 94 ramp from interstate 75.  Tiny was singing, Hot for Teachers as he took the curve too fast.  Tiny couldn’t control the SUV.  It hit the guard rail and went right through it.  The large vehicle felt weightless as it plummeted over twenty feet and landed nose first on the ground.  The car didn’t roll or tip, it stood vertically on end.  The airbag deployed and hit Tiny with such force that it broke his nose and cheek bones.  Tiny smashed his sternum on the steering wheel and fell in and out of consciousness.  Tiny had a dream that he was walking on a sunny day through a field of knee high grass towards the Fisher Body 21 building.  It was the 1950’s and the building was strong looking, vibrant and intact.  Tiny walked up to the security guard at the entrance who saw him bleeding.  The security guard posed a question.

            “Say Mack…  What in the world happened to you?”

            The security guard asked over and over until the voice changed along with the words and the accent.  The day was no longer sunny; it was cold, dark and snowy.  He could hear a voice posing the same question over and over again.

            “Say man… What happened to you?  You okay, man?  I know you breathin.  Kin you hear me?”

            Two old homeless black men raced from the fire they had built within the Fisher Body 21 building to see what had happened to the driver of the car that had sailed over the side of the freeway.  Tiny gave a faint response.  One of the homeless men took off on foot to possibly find a cop or someone with a cell phone that could call for an ambulance.  The other homeless man ran back to the building and grabbed a ratty old comforter that he dug out of the garbage.  It smelled horrible but it was warm and Tiny began to go into shock.  Tiny was aware of the fact that he was seriously hurt and the idea of dying that night was entirely possible.  Tiny was scared and began to say out loud that he wanted to live.  He had a wife and kids and he hadn’t yet done all the things he set out to do in life.  Tiny suddenly regretted that he didn’t spend more time with his wife and kids.  He regretted racing through life, doing two things at a time at all times.  He regretted being so angry and dissatisfied with life.  Tiny sniffled as he listened to a homeless black man that he couldn’t see.  All he could feel was a random stranger holding his hand.  If he were to die, someone living would witness it.  The homeless stranger was no stranger to the loss of life.  Jonas had lived through Vietnam and at least a decade on the streets.  Jonas quietly tried to reassure Tiny to fight.

            “Listen boy…  You keep yo eyes open an tell y’self you gone live.  You got a wife an kids…  That reason nuff to live foh.  Yo wife an kids don’t want to be putting yo ass in the goddamn ground on Christmas…  Hell naw.  She want you to give her some present and y’kids want the same.  They want to sit round and eat and talk like people do on dem holidays…  Just like Jimmy Stewart,” said Jonas.

            Jonas rubbed the top of Tiny’s left hand.  Jonas was cold but acclimated to being cold since he lived in the cold.  Tiny trembled almost uncontrollably as his teeth chattered.

            “You cold, I knows it…  Picture walking through a jungle where it so dang hot you kin barely breathe.  You got mosquitoes biting on you and you sweat so much at all times.  I lived through that in Vietnam foh two years, boy.  I sat in the jungle with a young good ole boy from Georgia who hated me foh the color my skin an when the time come an he was tremblin from shock ah been shot, he held mah hand an thanked me foh being wid him… He died an I felt bad.  I felt real bad cause I nevah toll him to fight.  I jus listen to him an he needed t’hear me tell em to fight foh his life…  I’m telling you, boy.  Fight foh yo life.  Fight foh yo family…  You don’t give up, boy.  You keep treading water cause the lifeguard coming.”

            Tiny fought hard to stay awake.  He thought about all the things he wanted to do and say to people that meant so much to him.  After a while he could hear sirens getting closer and closer.  The voice ceased speaking to him and his left hand grew cold.  Tiny passed out and came to in the hospital surrounded by his entire family and a television news crew.

            Every year since the accident on the day before Christmas Eve, Tiny and his hockey teammates rent out the Old Shillelagh and Campus Martius ice rink.  Homeless people from all over Detroit come to get a free meal of corned beef and cabbage and then ice skate for free at Campus Martius, which has an outdoor rink.  Homeless men and women put aside their woes and demons for a few hours as they shuffled across the ice to the sounds of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.  It may seem like a bizarre thing to take the homeless ice skating but none of them minded.  In fact every year the homeless look forward to a day of dignity.  Tiny served food at the restaurant and tied skates at the ice rink.  He no longer raced around in traffic and cut people off.  He did not let insignificant things ruin his days either.  Tiny spent time with his family and took time to appreciate and grasp that every moment of life was life itself.  Tiny took the time to take life in instead of letting it race past him.  Almost dying will put life in true perspective.

            Tiny was offered a lateral move with his company back to Los Angeles and he declined.  When asked why, he answered; I am Detroit, Detroit is me.

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I Love You, Dude or The Hockey Marriage

December 5, 2010

The Ronnies are what Ron Taylor and Ron Fitzgibbons were called by everyone from grade school on who knew the two best friends.  The Ronnies spent nights at each other’s house as little boys and played on the same hockey teams all the way through high school.  They were voted the most likely to go Columbine on their own high school by their classmates.

            Ron T. never finished college.  He was a freshman for four years at a junior college and was fortunate to pass the drug test that UPS gave him before he got a job loading panel trucks in the middle of the night.  Ron T. sort of liked his job.  It was mindless and secure.

            Ron F. sold beer in the summers at Wrigley Field which was sort of funny since he hated the Cubs and thought baseball in general was sort of an out dated sport.  Most of the year he worked for a Korean man who owned an independent video store.  In the store on the shelves were the entire first rate Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man 9, Spiderman 7, and The Flintstones meet Yogi Bear at the Phantom Ranch with The Globetrotters and Scooby Doo and so on.  Behind a wall of the store was the world of debauchery that 90% of the customers came in for but even those customers were getting most of their stuff off the internet.  Ron F. was able to talk his boss into buying the Center Ice package so that he could watch all the NHL games from work during the baseball off season.  And so between selling and renting DVDs to lonely men, Ron T. would sit behind the counter, glued to any number of NHL games. 

            Ron T. and Ron F. would play ice hockey every morning somewhere around the city of Chicago.  Sometimes it was at Johnny’s Ice House on Madison Avenue, some times Mc Fetridge on the north side of the city, sometimes Franklin Park by O’Hare and so on.  Usually the boys played everyday except Saturdays.  Saturday nights were reserved for going out to clubs to try and find love for the night with any women that would have them.

            Both Ronnies played juniors for a few years after high school and then hung it up when they realized that being third liners on a junior B team in the middle of nowhere, was a sign that they were not going to be scouted by the NHL.  They both came back to Chicago and became men’s league all-stars.  Any night of the week, they could both find a late night game with a team that needed a player and usually they did that in addition to playing pick up hockey each morning.  Days went as follows: Ron F. picks up Ron T. after he takes a quick nap after work.  They hit the 7-11 to get a Monster energy drink and donuts though most recently; Ron T. began to grow up a bit at 28 years age and began to drink coffee.  The clerk whom they called Habib yelled at the Ronnies almost daily for making a mess. They would then show up at a rink early and watch whatever was on television which was usually The View.  They would criticize the women and guests without listening to anything they were talking about while putting tape on their sticks and checking the blades of their skates for nicks.

            “Dude…  That one dude from Cheers was fucking Whoopie Goldberg until he found out she was a fucking bull dyke and was fucking around with Ellen degenerate…” said Ron F. in his pseudo surfer boy/burnout voice that he still maintained from high school.

            “That’s fucking bullshit, dude.  They just fucking broke up.  She’s as ugly as your asshole but she ain’t a dyke.  She’s fucking old and knows that she’s not fuckable anymore.  Most white dudes wanna fuck a black chick like Beyonce.  When they can’t, they go home and beat a woman that looks like Whoopie.” Said Ron T. while taping his $200.00 Easton one piece stick with 5.5 lie and a slight heel curve. 

            “Fuck it, dude.  I hope we get two goalies.  I don’t care if it’s a fucking St. Bernard or your fucking mother just as long as we have something to shoot at,” said Ron F.

            In the pick up games, the Ronnies always wore the same color.  It was a gray which was not white and not dark.  On the front was the name of one of their men’s league teams that they had pledge alliance to called The Pigs.  Their jerseys said in big letters, “The Pigs” and underneath that was a pig with a flat top hair cut holding a hockey stick in one hand and his penis in the other.  At the age of twenty eight, the Ronnies thought that was still hilarious.

            Ron T. was the passer and Ron F. was the scorer.  Ron T. was geared towards being defensive and Ron F. was most concerned with scoring and so they worked well together.  One day Ron T. took a slap shot from the blue line. It rode up the blade of someone’s stick and took out six of Ron F.’s front teeth.  The teeth exploded and left shards of porcelain throughout Ron F.’s mouth.  The Ronnies were sent to Cook County Hospital where they sat for close to six hours because Ron F. did not have health insurance and after six hours the duo grew tired of waiting for the free health care and went home. The bleeding had stopped but Ron Fitzgibbon’s mouth was a mess as was his swollen face.

            The cost to replace the three upper and three lower teeth for Ron F. was going to be over $10,000.00.  There was no way either of the boys had that sort of money.  Luckily for the boys, there was a way and a loop hole.  Since civil marriages between men and men and women and women were going to be legal in Illinois, Ron F. popped the question to Ron T.

            “Look man, you hit me in the fucking mouth.  I can’t talk or even smile cause I look like a fucking golf ball went through my fucking teeth.  We get this thing done and I get my fucking teeth fixed after you can claim me on your insurance and then we get a divorce or annulment or whatever it is you need so that you can still get married in a Catholic Church when you find the right person,” said Ron F.

            “Are you fucking cracked?!  You want me to marry you so you can get insurance?!  I’m not fucking doing it, dude.  I’ll find a way to get the $10,000.00,” said Ron T.

            “What the fuck do you care?  Being a fag is in style now, dude.  Nobody is going to say shit.  They’ll say those two dudes got married.  Who the fuck cares anymore?  Fucking Magic Johnson got AIDS, got rid of it and got fat and nobody cares that he’s probably fucking dudes.  We don’t gotta have a party and invite friends.  We just do this and I get my shit fixed and then we get this shit undone.  I think you owe me this much, fucker…” said Ron F.

            Ron T. thought about the idea and decided it was the fairest thing he could do considering he was the reason his friend was missing a mouthful of teeth.  Both Ronnies were too manly to wear a cage or a visor on their helmets.  They grew up idolizing Chris Chelios and Tony Amonte from the Chicago Blackhawks and decided after high school that they would never use facial protection again.  Both received a few stitches here and there as well as a black eye now and then but never a need for a dental overhaul. 

            Ron F. did all the leg work.  He got the marriage license and filed all the paper work so that on the first day of legal same sex unions, he could get legally married to Ron T. so that he could then add him to his insurance and get Ron F.’s teeth fixed. 

            The spring day happened and both men dressed in dark suits nervously sat waiting for their chance to approach the judge as they looked at honest to goodness same sex couples that were ecstatic that their day had finally arrived.  An older white man with a close kept gray beard and a young black man, young enough to be his son, held hands, giggled and snuck kisses as they sat next to the Ronnies who looked more like they were going to jail than to be united in matrimonial bliss.  The flamboyant young black man asked the Ronnies if they had plans to go on a honeymoon to celebrate.  Ron F. was disgusted and gave the most deranged answer he could muster.

            “I got a can of fucking Crisco, a gerbil and some PVC in the trunk of the car.  My fiance lost a bet we had on who would win Dancing with the Stars and so he will be the happy recipient of the rodent at the closest fuck palace we can find near this place.  We don’t have the time for Cancun…” said Ron F.

            The two Ronnies looked somber and embarrassed as they said their vows in front of the judge.  When the ceremony concluded, they hugged each other like two Soviet era diplomats and then walked out without any further contact.  They emerged from the court house with cameras and microphones in their face.  Ron T. was ready to just run on foot but Ron F. punched a camera man in the face who put the camera too close to him.  For that he landed in jail and in the paper and it soon became known to all who ever knew the two Ronnies that they were joined together in matrimony.  Some were genuinely surprised but most who remembered the inseparable pair said that they knew it all along. 

            If you go to open hockey some morning somewhere in Chicago, you may run into the Ronnies. Don’t mention the marriage if you can help it.  It makes them both angry. They most likely will be wearing Pig jerseys.  And full metal cages.