Heading to Icy O’Briens on Monday night for a death slot 10.30 pm game, against the Wolverines, I was blown away by the number of bats in the post-dusk sky above me. I’ve always loved bats and have even tried to write them into poems, without any kind of publishable success. For years, I’ve sat on balconies around Fitzroy or Fitzroy North and watched them flapping determinedly to the west, deep in the gloaming, so sure of where they’re going while it sometimes feels like I lurch along underneath their flight path. I’m so happy that they’re around in such numbers this year and decided it was a good omen for the game, given I occasionally find myself dressing up as Batman and getting stared at by worried parents as I sit inexplicably on a public playground’s swing, scaring the little ones. Look, it’s a long story. The tl;dr version is that I’m practically a bat.
Big Cat has moved to the other end of town so the Icy O’Briens commute is now a solo-journey which still feels weird, but on Monday night, with the companionship of my fellow bats, I grinned and turned the radio up louder as I went past the zoo. ‘Feelin’ Alright’ by Joe Cocker was blasting and the night was perfect. I was primed and ready to tear up my first competitive hockey game of 2017.
You guessed it. The Cherokees lost and I was reasonably ineffective, not managing to get any points.
Driving home, I clicked the music down a few notches: ‘One more cup of coffee’ by Bob Dylan. Nothing but hits and memories in my car right now. I usually listen to more new music than old, but lately I’ve noticed that’s shifted. Maybe it’s because the here and now feels a little threatening, a little daunting, off the ice more than on. Music is always an exceptional way of taking yourself back to better times.
On Monday night, just past midnight, as Bob took a last look at his lover and prepared to go to the valley below, I was driving through empty streets, dirty about the loss, dirty that I hadn’t done more with the puck, dirty with the world, but then I remembered, shit, it was only hockey.
I’ve had two friends my age smacked hard by cancer in the last year and I worry, and barrack, deeply for their health. Other friends are doing it tough for various reasons. I have my own off-ice trials, like everybody, but then I look to Manus Island or Nauru, and I read over Christmas about a legitimate refugee pleading with the Australian government for medical help and being denied, and dying, to very little community outrage, and I shudder and realise my trials, whatever they are, are honestly not so bad. I’m 51 years old, living in one of the greatest cities in the world, and healthy enough to play hockey with my son and a bunch of mates on a brilliant rink deep into the night.
But if you have any kind of world awareness, darkness looms, just on the edge of our vision and it’s hard not to be spooked. Maybe the bats have the right idea, after all, flying away to who knows where? I’m following their lead, heading out of town on Friday and plan/hope to have no wifi or phone signal where we’re camping. I honestly don’t want to be plugged in on January 20 when a reprehensible human is sworn in as President of the United States. It all comes down to one thing for me: Trump just seems like a fucking horrible person. Forget Russians, forget whether Clinton was better, forget everything: what a nasty piece of shit ‘The Donald’ appears to be. Honestly. And he’ll be President. (Fun fact: I actually was once in the same room as him, at the Plaza Hotel ballroom, on the edge of Central Park, in Manhattan, surrounded by fake smiles and giant diamonds and a Tom Wolfe cast of glittering social creatures, a long, long time ago, but that’s a journalistic anecdote and has no place on a hockey blog. I hope I never have the same proximity again, given what I know now, about his views on women, disabled reporters, honesty, ethics, Muslims, Mexicans, and everything else.)
So anyway, I think next week is going to be a rough week, for anybody who cares about the world. And I’m glad I’ll be seriously unplugged on a remote Victorian beach, with very good wine and single malt whisky, with people who love me and even with a couple of my Bang footy brothers.
I might go surfing, or kick a Sherrin, then crank up the happy beats of ‘Hangin’ Out’ from Betty Davis – The Colombia Years. Push the camp chairs back and dance with my wife in the gathering gloom. And trust that life will get better, for ailing friends, for my hockey team, for the staggering Red Wings, for legal asylum seekers, for the wider world.
Stay safe, everybody, and try to keep believing the world remains a mostly good place, not mostly bad. Even when the evidence sometimes disputes that fact, like it will next week.
All we can do is play the long game. Peace.