I could not let go of that commemorative birthday picture just yet.
A little background.
Towering behind me – if a two-floor edifice can “tower” – is the local public school, Glen Rush Elementary. Never destined to do anything the easy way, I was not slated to attend that nearby hallowed house of Lower Education.
I was, however, frequently seen diagonaling my away across its schoolyard on my way over to Bathurst Street, where I picked up the bus, heading north to the transplanted Baycrest Avenue Toronto Hebrew Day School, a half-hour’s travel time, rather than the less than a minute it would have taken me to trek to Glen Rush.
The superannuated southern incarnation of the Toronto Hebrew Day School I’d once attended had been even further from my house, requiring transferring bus, subway and streetcar transportation – and of course the opposite on the return trips. That commute took closer to an hour.
And yet – he reports with a nostalgic quiver – the boy in that picture, and one even a year or two younger, was, as were his classmates, permitted to navigate Toronto’s transportation system alone. No fear of possible abduction or sexual misconduct.
The most bizarre event involving those solo commute was that every day for an entire year, on my way home from the downtown Brunswick Avenue Toronto Hebrew Day School, an inexplicably friendly middle-aged woman working in the kiosk at the College Street subway station gave me a large, free cup of Orange Soda.
What was she angling for, I wonder?
Anyway, the next year she was gone, perhaps, like those miscreant priests, judiciously relocated to another kiosk, or – more likely – she had been summarily cashiered for dispensing unpaid-for Orange Soda.
I remember, first day of school the following year, standing hopefully in front of the counter, my benefactor’s clueless replacement greeting me with an uncomprehending blank stare.
REPLACMENT KIOSK ATTENDANT: “Why are you looking at me?”
The bungalow pictured behind me belonged to the Bluvols. Patriarch Al had once screamed at me and my mother – actually just her but I had been present to witness the frightening tirade – for buying our new Chevrolet Bel Air from a dealership other than the one at which Al Bluvol sold Chevrolets. (Our car – and his own Chevrolet Impala – were actually jointly bought by my Uncle Irving, who was unacquainted with Al Bluvol. In a just world Al Bluvol would be screaming red-facedly at him. But we were living next door. And it is not a just world.)
So that’s the background.
No, wait. A little more background:
The covering blanket of slippery snow.
And now, the foreground. If this snapshot (taken by I have no idea whom) were an incomparable work of art it might well be entitled:
“Cold Boy, With Hockey Stick.”
Or, more specifically – although how many officionados of art would actually care:
“Cold Boy, With Goalie Stick.”
Let me say, straight out –
I like that boy!
First of all, I’m outside.
No. First of all, it’s me.
Second of all, I’m outside.
Technical Note: Photography – even today – is unable to record wind. I mean, look how flat it is behind me. (And, with topographical consistency, in front of me, as well.) Those winter blasts must have been gusting. And yet – burly Canadian that I am – I haven’t even fastened my earflaps!
Third of all, reflecting the Earl of my past,
I was holding a goalie stick!
The right way! (And slightly raised from the ground, keeping the penetrating slush from insidiously cracking the blade.)
I had deliberately asked for that goalie stick – not a two-gun holster, nor the popular board game, Ramar of the Jungle – using it, admittedly, not on the ice – where you can fall down – but in my driveway, stopping pucks – well, not pucks, but balding tennis balls – with startling agility, canny anticipation and unfathomable aplomb.
Okay, none of that was true. (Except for the “not on the ice” part.)
But that’s how it definitely felt in my head.
Though lacking the requisite reflexes, strength and peripheral vision,
I was Harry Lumley in my mind.
(The current Toronto Maple Leaf goaltender, who resembled my then dentist, George Starr.)
I truly believed I was a goalie. I’d been a capable “ball hockey” (pretty much soccer with a littler ball) netminder in the schoolyard, cutting down angles as I courageously slid out, smothering pucks (again, balding tennis balls) before the onrushing attacker could shoot.
I was intense.
I was effective.
And, to everyone’s surprise – including, privately, my own –
I was ferocious.
Who wouldn’t like that boy?
And look for needed encouragement from the intrepid “me” I once was.
Somewhere inside me I imagine that young goalie, grittily girding for the oncoming assault.
That guy’s still in there.
Don’t you think?