Saturday, April 02, 2016

Top Twelve: Pushing Away from the Table

I posted one entry in 2015, a clear sign that other endeavours have wooed me away from writing about hockey (and donuts).  

All but done with donut(s)
Oh, I have many other stories I’d like to tell here, but it’s time to say an official “see you later” with one more Top Twelve collection—this one focused on the activities, people and places that, in the last year or so, have provided relief, gratitude and even joyfulness as way to combat my often irrational fear and anxiety.

Ron Maclean’s Hockey Towns: Untold Stories from the Heart of Canada; George Henderson’s Krazy George Still Krazy After All These Cheers; and Clint Malarchuk’s A Matter of Inches, the latter of which I finished reading in Montreal.

Montreal, QC
I didn’t skate on Puckbite’s backyard rink. Way too cold. But, the Habs-loving, late-blooming hockey player and yours truly enjoyed lunch and a long philosophical discussion about hockey and the arts.

My wife and I visited several familiar places and a new donut establishment, in La Petite-Italie. Our Russian cabbie, a friendly historian who knows his way around town, delivered us to Le Trou de Beigne, where we bought these donuts, some of which we shared with the doorman at our hotel, some of which we ate, and a lot of which we had to sacrifice for art’s sake.

North Carolina
Getting Silly with "Stormy"
Another wonderful friend, much like Puckbite, lives in Charlotte. Hockey isn’t such a big deal there, so we drove north.

In Raleigh, college football outranks professional hockey, but the PNC Arena is a fantastic venue to watch a Hurricanes game. Even though the Dallas Stars beat the home team, we still enjoyed affordable seats near the player’s bench, the “Two in the Box” video segment and pulled pork.

In Durham, the hot spot is Monuts Donuts. Unique donut and coffee options contribute to the flair of this tavern that, of course, serves Sierra Nevada Tropical IPA and Irish Coffee.

The Nutella-covered cronut at Krust Bakery was the best tasting donut in Dublin. The Boston Cream at The Natural Bakery in Donnybrook made me feel at home.

Bostonians beware: I saw lots of people sporting NY Yankees caps and not a single Dubliner wearing Red Sox merchandise.

I didn’t see a Celtics, Bruins or Sox fan in Galway either, but that’s not something I worried about while savoring the porridge at the House Hotel—in the heart of the Latin Quarter. ¡QuĂ© bueno!

Dave Gosher and Bob Beers
Gosher calls such a great Bruins game on the radio that sometimes my wife and I turn off the TV’s sound. Three weeks ago on the Sports Hub 98.5 hockey show, Beers said it’s unrealistic to expect the Bruins to be perfect every game. Every NHL team goes through ups and downs. This kind of broadcasting is refreshing and supports my efforts to tap into gratitude, dare I say love.

Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand
I love these guys. How blessed are we here in Boston to have this duo on the same line and same penalty killing unit? Definitely an odd pairing, but what’s not to love as they demonstrate their mutual affection in this Valentine’s Day video? The only thing missing is a love song.

Nashville, TN
Some Nashville hockey fans may be tired of Tim McGraw’s “I like it, I love it” after every goal the Predators score, but my wife and I heard it five times as the hometown team defeated the St. Louis Blues. I couldn’t get enough of it.

My afternoon at the Country Music Hall of Fame rivaled the hockey game for entertainment value. The Keith Urban exhibit, which includes an autographed Quebec Nordiques T-shirt, and chatting with a visitor from Toronto in front of the cowboy music displays, made me happy.

My wife took a poolside photograph of  a “100 Layer Donut” from Five Daughters Bakery as I listened to a Garth Brooks tune streaming from our hotel’s speakers.

West Point, NY
Getting to re-connect with a relative who plays for the Black Knights was extra special.

Even if you’re not a hockey fan, West Point is a beautiful place to visit. I didn’t see a donut dispenser on campus, but you’ll find outstanding soda bread and cider donuts a few miles up the road, at Jones Farm.

Most every Friday morning at the Boston Bean House, I’m working on a historical novel. If you love hockey or Canadian-American history, this book may be for you. Someday. (By the way, my hockey and donut memoir is still on the to-complete list, but it needs a wee more bit editing and time to mature.)

“You still got it,” Donut Boy told me while I, in my street clothes, shot the puck into the net. He was skating after the game, as he always does, and I wasn’t— but that didn’t matter. His compliment lifted my spirits.

I’ve had so much fun playing hockey with Donut Boy and all the other men and women that make the AMHL so special. As I re-read some of the stories I’ve written (and had forgotten about), I’m so glad to have been part of the league, as a player and writer, and for friends like Donut Boy.

I haven’t skated since last fall but planks and long walks, in the cities we’ve visited and here at home in Maynard, have become my friends.

Less Pain
My groin and hip pain has decreased in frequency, intensity and duration. I’m not cured of it and there are flare-ups. But, thanks to my wife, exercise, pelvic floor therapy, my chiropractor, playing the guitar, prayer, music, meditation, my psychologist and countless others who care about me, I remain gratefully yours.

Thank you—gracias, merci, obrigado, shokran, spaciba, Go raibh maith agaibh—to all the readers over the world and to those who also shared their hockey (and/or donut) stories. Thanks for such an enlightening and magical ten-year gig.

See you on LinkedIn, email, the golf course, the rink…maybe someday here on this site again, or wherever our paths may cross again.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers, Sons and Dunkin' Donuts

Coupons from my father's DDU training manual 
In 1974, my dad spent six weeks at Dunkin’ Donuts University (DDU) in Braintree, MA. While he learned about frying fritters and operating a franchise, my mom and we four boys went about our business in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Mom told a lumber yard employee that her husband, Jim, had died and asked the stranger if he could help her Cub Scouts with a Pinewood Derby project.)

I was a fifth-grader at Longfellow Elementary, yet I don’t recall learning anything about Henry Wadsworth or reciting “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

After my dad returned from Boston and then moved us to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma—where he opened a Dunkin’ Donuts on Route 66—my ex-classmates wrote to me. I still have the missives written on paper reserved for grade-schoolers learning to improve their penmanship, if not their spelling and punctuation. Greg, for example, wrote, “You are lucky because your dad works in a dunkin donuts (sic) shop, when ever (sic) you want a donut you got one. Boy, you are going to live in paradise!”

Dad made cutting donuts look easy to a ten-year old. On rare occasions, he would place the chrome ringlet-maker in my right hand. I anticipated chopping the dough into perfect circles, just like my father had learned at DDU. I swung my right arm and wrist downward at the doughy blob and anticipated the impact, that flick of the wrist Dad had executed to free the soon-to-be donut from its mother ship.

Thwap. A doughy glob would get stuck in the donut-cutter. (I had latent talent that wouldn’t manifest itself for another decade or so, but that’s another story). Dad then blended the mutant’s remains into the big batch and repeated the process he had learned in Boston.

I could also watch my father through the gigantic rectangular window separating the customers from the master donut maker. He’d roll dough flat, sprinkle cinnamon on top, reshape the mass into a roll—and then with a whack, whack, whack—he’d chop off chunks that would become coffee rolls.

My dad wore splattered batter instead of blush. Cakeup, not makeup. He shouldered the burden: the long, long hours required to feed customers and to earn a living for a growing family.

Less than two years later, we moved back to Colorado—to Fort Collins, where my dad would own an automotive business for more than three dozen years and I would learn that I preferred donut grease to muffler grime.

In 2013, less than a year before Oklahoma City’s Dunkin’ Donut franchisee Misha Goli would announce the expansion of the brand there, he and I chatted about our dads and donuts. His father, Massoud, had also attended DDU and baked... and baked. Misha, a ten-year old in 1992, wanted no part of that. He was all about customer service.

He said, “I used to get the milk crates—I couldn’t reach the cash register because I was too short. So I would always get the milk crate and put that under the cash register, jump up and grab the register with one arm and use the other hand to try to push the buttons and ring the customers up as they were coming in.”

He also remembers that giant rectangular window through which customers could watch bakers in action. “The windows aren’t there anymore,” Misha said. He was quick to add that the family and community spirit is still alive, however.

His father has retired and still lives in Oklahoma. My dad passed away last October, in Fort Collins—a week before Dunkin’ Donuts opened a store there and while I was home here in Boston.

My wife and I flew back to Colorado, and in my dad’s basement she found his Dunkin’ Donuts training manual with that old school logo, letters rounded into a fuchsia-colored coffee cup.

Talk about your full circle.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

On Colorado Eagles’ Wings

Cape Cod, October 2009
I sang “On Eagle’s Wings” from the front pew shared with my brothers. The urn storing my father’s remains rested on a table a few feet in front of us as hundreds of his friends and customers—several wearing hockey jerseys representing Fort Collins Muffler & Automotive—sang, too.

The lyrics, displayed on a white space above the altar, reminded me of Dad’s favorite minor league hockey team, the Colorado Eagles. He had season tickets since 2003, the team’s inaugural season.

On Colorado Eagles’ Wings, I thought.

Dad didn’t attend the Eagles’ home opener on October 25 because of his rapid decline. Alzheimer’s, dementia or whatever other potential undiagnosed disease led him to slip away over the past few years, would claim him two days later. He was ready for the Next Realm, ready to join my mom.

As the service progressed, I continued to think of hockey. Dad, or “Mr. Hockey” as many of his friends referred to him, played a big role in the building of Edora Pool and Ice Center (EPIC) in Fort Collins, CO. My dad was always quick to say that he had a lot of help.

Peter Jacobs, an integral part of that EPIC success and my father's good friend, told me during the reception, “It’s the end of an era.”

Nearly a month has passed since Dad ascended to that loge section in the sky or whatever you want to call Heaven, and “On Eagle’s Wings” continues to comfort me. When it pops into my mental playlist, I think of the drives to Denver to watch the Colorado Rockies and playing with my father and brothers on Wednesday nights—that one game in 1987 as Dad scored the only goal I can recall seeing him get, a tip-in. (Dad’s favorite hockey mantra was “head for the net.”)

These joyful memories balance the sadness I feel and lead me to gratitude. I’m grateful for Dad’s visits to the Land of Ben Affleck (inside joke to those who attended the memorial service), our walks in Maynard, riding the “T” to the TD Garden to watch the Bruins, and our road trips to Lake Placid, Ottawa and Hershey.

As the Colorado Eagles are a dozen or so games into their season and Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us, I find myself grateful for a sound mind that allows me to reflect back to my father’s memorial service once again: I hugged, shook hands and laughed with my dad’s former teammates, opponents and customers; I talked hockey with a father whose son I had coached at EPIC; I chatted with a former Colorado Rockie who had become friends with my dad; I served as a conduit between people who didn’t know how much they had in common.

I wonder now if the hundreds of people singing “On Eagle’s Wings,” realize how much they have enriched my life, how their thoughts and prayers and donations to the Alzheimer’s Association have comforted me.

Thank you, Dear Reader. Whether you knew my dad as a hockey player or horseman (his other great passion), whether you knew him well, met him once or are reading about him for the first time, thank you.

Thank you, too, Father Jan Michael Joncas, for composing “On Eagle’s Wings.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hockey and Hernias, Part IV: Men's Pelvic Health

“Have you ever had a pelvic exam?” my PT specialist asked.

Sure, I surmised. Doctors’ hands thumping on the region between my fifty-year-old hips, physical therapy, and surgery—all that must count for something, right?

No, this would be a different kind of probing, an internal exploration of the pelvic floor region.

Yikes. Okay.

After the test, eight sessions of myofascial release, prescribed light pelvic movements and a ton of Internet research, here’s what I’ve discovered.

·         Pelvic health problems apply to women and men. Just because we males don’t bear children doesn’t mean we’re exempt from chronic pelvic pain syndrome, pudendal neuralgia, pudendal nerve entrapment or a combination of these (pelvic myoneuropathy).
·         “Pelvic” pertains to more than what meets the hip.
·         The perineum supports the diaphragm, bladder and bowel and is bordered by the pelvic floor.
·         We have two superficial transverse perineal (STP) muscles. They stabilize the perineum. They remind me of shock absorbers. In my case, the left STP is more clenched—as if bracing itself against additional injury—than the right.
·         Many people, myself included, have forgotten how to breathe like a baby; stress and fatigue cause us to inhale through the chest rather than through the rib cage, thus putting unhealthy pressure on the perineum.
·         Everything’s connected: Abdominal bloating, pelvic floor and radiating pain come and go and vary in type intensity and duration, but guided meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, playing the guitar, walking and light exercise can deflate the symptoms and, more importantly, the negative “here-it-comes-again/what-am-I-doing-wrong/I’m-never-going-to-be-free-of-this thinking that enters my mind.
·         Progress will be slow and is best measured by what pain I can tolerate or how often I reach for Advil. For example, if I play golf and am not debilitated the next day or two (did that twice in the last month), then I’m on the right track.
·         My STP is more relaxed than it was before the eight sessions.
·         Dealing with healthcare insurance and the pending appeal for additional sessions is a pain in the perineum.
·         I have options as I await that decision and for UMASS Worcester to develop a better MRI: Restorative yoga, cold laser therapy or trigger point massage for hockey players.

I can’t say when or even if I’ll ever return to the AMHL but am grateful for the opportunity to help others with this same injury and similar conditions. I’m grateful for the proactive professionals who care about and for me and who have responded to email. I thank goodness for financial and spiritual stability, the guitar my mom and dad gave me, my wife, my hockey friends and….the list goes on as long as I want it to.