When Audrey invited my husband and me to a Caps home game, I had my reservations. She’s the sports geek in our kindred spirit-ship; I ask embarrassing questions like what sport do the Caps play? The last time I watched ice hockey, okay the only time, was the Miracle on Ice on Wide World of Sports. I won’t say how old I was, but let’s just say I wasn’t living in the South at the time. Now I am, and not a soul I know plays or watches ice hockey – for obvious climate-related reasons. People here value ice only for its ability to keep oysters, freshly-caught shrimp and cheap beer cold.
I realized this wasn’t reason enough to turn down Audrey’s invitation when we visited over Thanksgiving. Besides, I’m only a transplanted Southerner and so have no cultural immunity. Truthfully, it was the blood factor. On the continuum of imagined barbarity, ice-hockey is somewhere between vampire orgies and giving birth. All of which makes me queasy just writing about it. It’s not really my fault. I’ve fainted at the sight of blood ever since I had my ears pierced. It’s genetic. I passed out and so did my mother, right there at the jewelers counter. When I came too, she was bleeding, from a gash on the forehead where she collided with said jewelry counter on the way to the floor. I fainted again.
It doesn’t help that the Caps’ color is blood red, and entering the stadium/rink/arena (I really know nothing about sports) is like diving into a red-tide. My husband and I, dressed head-to-toe in black, must have looked like characters out of a Southern Goth novel. Half-frozen creatures out of our natural element, down to the gloves we wore for the entire game.
Which was nothing like what I imagined. Firstly, there was no blood. Not even when a Caps player mixed it up with a Tampa Bay bruiser for some infraction that happened far too quickly to justify. These guys pummeled each other, helmets off and spit flying, much to the delight of the crowd. The jumbo-tron provided a closer look – instant replay of anger mismanagement. If there had been blood, I couldn’t have avoided it. Instead, I got a glimpse of plumber crack disguised by tattoos. Maybe I should rethink my blood aversion.
The game itself was insanely fast and blissfully quiet. No annoying play-by-play to interfere with the occasionally creative curse hurled at the visiting team’s bench. It brought back memories of my childhood. I was so much smaller than my classmates that in grade school, boys humiliated me with taunts of “Bruce-flea” and “You’re too short to be a jockey!” I got to re-live these insults again, thanks to a height-challenged Tampa player named St. Louis. Now I realize that they’re funny.
So is the fact that half of the players don’t speak English and cede their post-game victory interviews to lesser, native-speaking players. Pronouncing their names requires a concentrated diplomacy of effort on behalf of their fans – something rarely conceded to ordinary immigrants. It isn’t easy. Even a transplanted Southern woman finds herself blushing when screaming the name of the hat-trick hero of the night. Semin! Semin! Semin! Audrey kept reminding me, “think semi-colon,” but that only made it worse.
In the end, I found myself enjoying the spectacle and abandon of the game. Even in politically correct DC, there was cussing and insulting and booing. In real life, it isn’t nice to gloat over the misfortunes of others, but in ice hockey it’s expected. The Caps didn’t just win, they shut out the sorry Southern team 6-0 with a hat trick to boot. And even though there was not a drop of blood in sight, I was giddy with it.