On the John
Sports and the good life in sunny California
Originally completed April 25, 2010
GEORGE: “Alright. Tell me the rules.”
JERRY: “Okay. No calls the next day.”
GEORGE: (processing) “So you have the sex… next day you don’t have to call… that’s pretty good.” (impressed. more processing) “Go ahead.”
JERRY: “You ready for the second one?”
GEORGE: “I gotta tell you: I’m very impressed with the first one.”
— Seinfeld, “The Deal”
It’s Day Six in Los Angeles, where everything is cooooool. Bedrooms have large windows that look upon mountains, sun, and sky. Houses are built on hills with little consideration for either. Waking up is effortless. Walking more relaxing. Bananas tastier. Illegal drugs legaler. And pedestrians always have the right of way.
Stunning! Another curious California contradiction distilled to hilarious perfection: a town where drivers treat the freeway like a cruel death course while also granting travelers on foot unwavering respect and safe passage.
I have been waking up between 6:30 and 9, partially because of the beautiful world announcing itself through the window, partially because of my Chicago clock that translates those times as 8:30 and 11. But it’s 6:30 a.m. in Los Angeles, and the day is long and waiting.
My trip is long and waiting. We arrived by way of Phoenix, I-10 for many miles. My brother lives in a house with three of our friends, all four working together through either direct collaboration or simple motivation. This sounded like a terrific set-up for them, but I never wished to join, for two reasons.
One, I did not think L.A. was for me. Two, even if it was, I was not up for living in the Super House with Everybody. I still think I’m right…
…and yet as soon as I arrived, saw their three story house on the hill, saw the mountains and sun, saw the sweet colors of trees and sky, saw the space to work, I had to say: “Damn. This is terrific.”
So I changed my train ticket home from yesterday evening to this coming Thursday, and decided to treat this trip more as a trial than as a vacation. To think, I spent an April afternoon yesterday on the deck in what must have been 75-degree April weather, enjoying burgers and conversation and music and a book, shirt off, sunscreen on, the sun upon my eyelids. Train’s twin sister Shannon is in town, and she was good enough to buy groceries and cook up a full-scale barbeque that in Chicago would only be possible a month from now. After lunch, Train, Schwartz, and I played basketball for 90 minutes, outside, at a park where two soccer games and two baseball games were in progress. Then I watched the sun drop out while reading a bit more…
Hot damn! It’s guilty out here! I feel like I’ll get home and the first thing out of Chicago’s mouth will be, “So, how was it?” I’ll stammer a bit, turning away. “I thought of you every day. I missed you terribly.” She’ll sense my evasion. “Did she… did you…”
“Baby, don’t think those thoughts! I love you! You’re my town! My home! My life!”
In a way, I have felt more tapped in to Chicago than ever, especially with the playoffs in Full Swing. The Bulls have a win in their pocket and a certified Death Match less than two hours away, while those masterful Blackhawks are locked into a grueling first round showdown with the Nashville Predators. What would my grandfather, who raised my dad and uncle on Original Six hockey, think of his beloved Hawks mixing it up with an 11-year-old franchise from Tennessee? Hard to say.
During deck time, Schwartz came out with News. He’d received a call from Tony the Packers Fan asking if he was watching the game, which he wasn’t, so he flipped it on. And then: “Hawks were down 4-3 and short-handed on the penalty, but scored the game-tying goal with about 13 seconds left.”
“Excellent! Who got it?”
“Bout to start.”
I was not handed hockey as a boy. Chicago is a Bears town with a deep passion for baseball; MJ made the Bulls toast of the Stadium and the Hawks faded away…
They’re back now, younger and faster and scarier than ever. All things even, the city will always embrace hockey over hoops, and the resurgence of the once mighty Black Hawks has brought our city’s hockey fans to the fore. I took notice during last year’s postseason run and five-game OT tangle with the Red Wings. Even if I hadn’t, I’d have to be some kind of sports fascist to not rush inside to watch sudden death overtime in Game 5 of the Playoffs! My oh my! What kind of monster do you take me for?
What’s great about a Game 5 is that even if you are unfamiliar with the series, the season, or even the sport, any serious Game 5 transports you to all previous Game 5’s you’ve ever watched. The Charles Smith game, the Hubert Davis game, the Jannero Pargo game, Reggie Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter, Soriano’s walk-off single in the 2001 World Series, the Pujols death blow home run in Houston, and even the epic do-or-die Nuggets-Sonics series capper in ’94.
These Hawks remind me of those Supersonics. Young, world-class athletes talented beyond belief, talented possibly beyond their own imagination, lacking the experience and wisdom to match that talent with the intangibles needed to turn All-Stars into champions.
I was thinking about this as overtime began. We were watching on Ben’s computer thanks to a bootleg television website, and the reception was splotchy. The puck was nearly impossible to follow, what with players “jumping” from one spot on the ice to the next like a video game with bad graphics. Every time there was a shot on goal, we needed confirmation from the announcers, players, and crowd as to the result.
“Man this team is good,” Ben said in knowing amazement as Antti Niemi stopped a Nashville shot. “These guys are SO fast and skate SO well and are SO good at keeping the puck in the zone.”
There was about two minutes left on the Predator power play. “Wait – where was the penalty?” I asked.
“That’s from the end of the third.”
“Holy hell! Manslaughter?”
“We just have to ride out these two minutes,” Ben said, eyes in the screen. “Get back to full strength.”
It was Marian Hossa in the box, a five-minute penalty for something called “boarding.” I would see the replay after the game: it was a vicious hit, and Hossa was definitely Guilty. Minute and a half left in the power play, minute, 30 seconds – “Ride it out. Come on guys.” – 15 seconds, 10, 5, and Hossa was back! “All right…” Ben clapped. “All right…” The Hawks were now at full strength and controlling the puck in the Nashville zone, and the screen was clicking along as they worked it around. Bolland behind the goal line, passing quickly to Sopel at mid-ice, Sopel slapping one toward the goal that bounces off a Nashville stick to Hossa by the crease GOOOOOOAAALLL! Goal Hossa! Hawks win! The United Center goes berserk!
Yes sir, all is well in hockey once more. It’s bad enough for a team that nearly captured the conference’s top seed to fizzle out in the first round, even worse when it’s the old school Black Hawks dropping a series to an 11-year-old club from the South. I suppose we can blame Wayne Gretzky for the league’s southern migration. He too was seduced away from a more honest life to spoil himself in the Los Angeles sun…
And why not? Life is good out here. We can now rest easy with the Hawks up three games to two and a Game 7 at home in Chicago should they need it. There are floorboards covering that ice right now, where Derrick and the gang will try to wrestle Game 4 away from the Cavs and send the series back to Cleveland deadlocked at two. LeBron will be Angry and in Rare Form – I was not joking two days ago when I predicted a minimum of 45 points and a possible quintuple-double. The Bulls have their work cut out, as do the home fans at the U.C., who must drown the great James and send him dejectedly away from our beautiful city…
Yes, yes, sweet home Chicago. I will be back in your loving arms on the first of the month. Los Angeles has not seduced me, but we’re talking and laughing and drinking on the deck. Her fingers are in my hair and I am not objecting.
Copyright 2010, jm silverstein