Sunday, May 21, 2006

05-17-2006 – Before the storm

The worst thing about writing a column in a city where a playoff series is the only thing taking up space in the public imagination is trying to maintain something (something, anything) like relevance with readers a week – or even 24 hours – away from me. Here I sit on a supremely sunshining morning, apple blossom snowstorms in the breeze outside, knowing that before the sun’s set there’s going to be… some kind of scene? Game Six is tonight; what can I say to you from the past that’s going to have meaning in the aftermath of that bloody battle?

Are you using this paper to field-dress wounds received in the chaos of post-victory Whyte Avenue, your blood seeping through the horoscopes and hooker ads as you desperately, feebly keep croaking “Oiiiilerrrs…. Oilllerrrrrrrrs…” to keep the Fan Gangs from doubting your loyalty? Has the army rolled in yet, Stephen Harper finally getting the opportunity for his urban military pilot project as the Copper and Blue becomes a secessionist flag and the Free Republic of Champions digs in behind barricades of puckhats and overturned paddywagons, Oilfans in warpaint keeping the ragtag EPS at bay with deadly accurate deployment of half-empty Smirnoff Ice bottles?

Or did we lose?

I wonder where I’ll be when the shit goes down. It’s been a strange playoff for me. I went from celebratory streaking on the Detroit win to old-fashioned holing up in livingrooms. Sometime in the midst of all this madness I moved away from Whyte, and my first playoff party in the new ‘hood ended with my fleeing from Mama’s Pizza on 107th after three periods and two overtimes of constant draining of $4.50 pony jugs. After that, it was back in the hole, feeling Samsonov’s out-of-the-box goal in Rod Phillips’ radio screams…

I think radio might be the way to go, again. It’s actually a perfect way to experience hockey if you’re not really all that up on the swirling mechanics of playmaking and line-changes. Best of all, you get to get a lot of work done; unchained from the audiovisual lock of television, I managed to spend Game Four unpacking boxes, setting up my living room, cooking eggs and getting two years’ worth of tax documents together, all while zoned out into the imaginative space only a top-notch radio man can create. The phone would ring after every goal, some pal screaming “OILERS!” on the other end, but when the final call came – “Come on! Let’s go down to Whyte!” – I was so cozy in my unpacked and prepped new home, so warm in the glow of personal accomplishment and vicarious victory, that even the promise of seeing Edmonton’s world-famous Truncheon Team in action couldn’t draw me back across the bridge.

Oilers. OIIIILERRRRRSSS! The word has ceased to be the proper noun and marketing label it was just a few weeks ago, mutating instead into a watchword, a coded term, a tribal identifier, a post-hypnotic trigger. At breakfast after Game Four I felt a little bit like how I imagine The Man They Call Reveen must feel when he intones a couple syllables and his subject turns into a chicken. This one Hooting Dude, his jersey still stained and reeking from the night before, sat by the door to the restaurant, silenced finally by the mixed grill he’d stuffed into his face. On my way out, I made eye contact with him and said calmly, in my best Reveen tone: “Oilers.” The reaction was immediate; his arms flew into the air, hands still gripping knife and fork, and he screamed me back a street-hearty “OILEEERRRZZZ!”, spewing a mouthful of scrambled eggs across the table to his dining companion.

That’s the power of mass hypnosis, the power and peril that lies in the heart of a city gone mad-dog with adrenaline. Remember when the Sun’s front-page story wondered peevishly why Calgary fans were rocking out so hard and Edmontonians were being so sedate? Yes, please do remember that. Remember that when the sky is black with the smoke of a thousand burning phone booths, when the streets are running with bloody beer, when the OH MY GOD MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF POLICE OVERTIME are breaking the budget and hard currency is being melted down to make model Stanley Cups for use as body jewellery on the Blue Mile slave girls kept as harem diversions (and rewards to loyal troopers) by the clashing warlords of Whyte. Remember, and weep.

Update: despite a semifinal win, Edmontonian civil order has somehow been maintained.

1 comment:

Garnet said...

Oilers! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)