who are the caniacs?

To be fair, my hand was over my heart. It had to be, because it was holding a red-checkered paper tray with a barbeque sandwich in it to my chest. Two girls were singing the anthem in lovely harmony. I could see them way on the other side of the room, but I could see them much better on the jumbotron. It took me a minute to locate the flag, which I was supposed to be looking at reverently while I held my hand on my barbeque sandwich.

The girls sang on. "And the rockets'-"

"RED!" screamed everyone around me suddenly, making me jump.

"-glare, the bombs bursting in air," continued the girls, again unaided by the crowd. Then they finished and everyone cheered for America, God bless it, while I put down my barbeque sandwich. It sat next to a bobblehead of a Nordic-looking fellow with his fist in the air, a free gift to me upon entry into the arena.

Alex Trebek appeared on the jumbotron, which was as unexpected to me as the sudden importance of a single adjective within a song full of words. He gave a Jeopardy-style answer about the name of the craziest fans in the entire NHL. I wasn't sure about his fact-checking, but I was pretty sure I knew where he was going with this one.

Who are the Caniacs?

Everyone around me cheered again, as if Alex had just said their favorite color. Mine happens to be blue, but I'd be darned if I brought that up here, surrounded by all these rabid Caniacs, rumored to be the craziest fans in the entire NHL. I couldn't tell you for sure, because this was my first hockey game. They seemed pretty crazy, though.

I don't know anything about hockey. I said this was my first hockey game, but I meant that this was the first time I'd ever even watched a whole one. I know how they score goals, and I know a couple of jokes about fighting. As it turns out, that's really all you need to enjoy a hockey game. It also helps to know where the jumbotron is. There is useful information there, such as what to yell next. Also, you can watch the people in the stands as they sit staring dully into space for a second before realizing that they're on the jumbotron and start smiling and waving.

Hockey is exciting. It's non-stop fast-paced action, so it's got both baseball and football beat. It's still hard to score, though, so while it seems like everything is happening at once, somehow nothing is advancing. It's like an action movie with no plot. Maybe you have to understand the rules to get the plot.

A lot of the enjoyment is in the mob mentality. Every time the red team (that's us) took a shot and missed, we all went "awwwww." And then when the other team took a shot and we blocked it, we went "yeah!" I was genuinely excited when these things happened, even though I have no association with this team other than a shared base city and a newly acquired bobblehead. But I was enthralled. Why? I have no idea. I think it has something to do with testosterone, because I felt the same sort of excitement when there were fights.

About the fighting - it really is as bad as the jokes say. There were probably three tussles that night, and each one caused the fans to stand up and lean over to peer down at the action. It was the drama in the action movie.

I can't help but wonder if the fighting is...embellished. Not fake, but not exactly genuine, either. It's like everyone on the ice is looking for a fight, as if they'd gone to a bar after midnight and started yelling yo mama jokes at strangers. There's not really much punishment for it. You have to sit out for a while, but then so does the other guy, so your team isn't down a player. The referees will stop it before anyone gets too hurt. And the fans love it. They pound on the walls of your penalty box, which looks like the thing that the Pope stands in when he visits. There's even a montage of movie clips that shows on the jumbotron during the fight. Fighting is just a part of hockey.

Two of the fights were stopped pretty much immediately. But then there was that first one, where suddenly a player stopped skating, faced another player, tore off his gloves and held up his fists, street-fighting style. The other guy did the same. The refs stood back, watching, like kids on the playground who are more interested in seeing what happens than preventing anything. And then they went at it for a little while, swinging at each other until one guy was down and the refs stepped in. Apparently, if you take off your gloves, you're allowed to fight in a hockey game. It's like honor or being a gentleman or whatever else is at the intersection of testosterone and pride. It was oddly inspiring, as if this particular bout of fisticuffs were about something noble and not a guy on skates pushing another guy on skates into the wall.

I don't really advocate violence, but it seems to me that hockey is providing an outlet. Maybe without hockey, all these players and all these Caniacs would be at bars yelling yo mama jokes to strangers. It's not exactly constructive, but it's not hurting anything either. Perhaps hockey is where men can still be men, whatever that means.

I am not a man, but I have to say that our game was a great one, where we won by a goal scored in the last minute of sudden death overtime. I jumped up and cheered at that last goal. My favorite color is still blue, but at that moment, I probably could have passed for a Caniac.


bunny lips.

My brother didn't have to email me about it this time, but I've gone and used another offensive word without meaning to. A commenter mistook me on Monday, thinking that I pictured my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend with a hairy lip. I actually said that I imagined her with a harelip, which is far worse. In fact, having a little bit of hair on the upper lip is a common affliction of otherwise nearly-perfect dark-haired ladies. But the comment caused me to doubt my own understanding of the word, and so I looked it up. And then I learned that the word "harelip" is offensive.


Of course, I immediately started thinking of my defense. I've been using that term, albeit very rarely, for years. And I think once that I called Josh "bunny lips," so does that count, too? Since I didn't know that the word was offensive, was it still offensive when I used it? Well, yes, but I do have some plausible deniability. And I bet I'm not the only one. I bet you've been throwing "harelip" around left and right and had no idea how many cleft lip victims you were offending. You are so insensitive.

I had a hard time finding out why it was offensive. Lots of web sites said that it was without any further explanation. The only explanation I could find was honestly a bit sketchy. Apparently, the term comes from the fact that hares, like all rodents, cuddly or not, have split lips. But then that got all mixed up with a connection between hares and witchcraft. In fact, if a child was born with a cleft lip, then it indicated that the mother had been knocked up by the devil. I suppose that's legit. If I implied that a person was the inspiration for "Rosemary's Baby", I would understand how they might be upset. But this explanation didn't ring true to me, maybe because it seemed like it referred to a limited time period. The writer then sort of lamely says that no one likes to be compared to a rodent.

But in my not-at-all extensive research (I skimmed through forty Google hits), that was the only explanation I could find. Usually internet research yields much more information. So if no one knows that a word is offensive, and no one can remember why, is it still offensive?

I wonder if maybe it became offensive the same way that "retarded" has. It started out as a totally legitimate medical term. But then people took it and started applying it as a general insult to people who were not actually mentally retarded, but just displaying some level of stupidity, either in general or by buying a really ugly hat. But then that makes other people mad, because you're being insensitive to people who are actually mentally retarded and would not be caught dead in that hat. And so the word that was formally just a regular term is now offensive to use at all, even when it's appropriate. Then we have a to come up with a new words for "retarded," but I bet it's only a matter of time before "mentally challenged" goes the same way. It's possible, maybe even likely, that eventually "retarded" will become non-offensive as more people grow up associating it with general stupidity only and not mental disabilities.

I suspect, and I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support this, that that scenario happened to "harelip", perhaps when it was a more common and less fixable condition. How long before "cleft lip" starts being used as a derogatory term? C'mon, you can call someone a Clefty*. That's offensive and catchy.

In any case, I feel bad about using the term at all now, because looking up info about it only leads me to pictures of cute babies with cleft lips and palates. How am I supposed to feel superior to my ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend if I start thinking of her as a sweet innocent baby whose face didn't develop properly in the womb? Maybe I should have accused her of having a hairy lip. Even better, a full beard. Yeah, we'll go with that. She's a total bearded lady, and he picked her up at the circus. She probably uses the term "harelip," too, which, as we all know, is very offensive. She's so insensitive.

*Okay, that was offensive, and I knew it. I have no excuse.


baseball girlfriends.

I'm fascinated by social groups formed by the significant others of people who hang out together. I can't say that I've ever been in a group like that. My friend Amy was in the group of baseball players' girlfriends in high school. They would all sit together and chat during games, because there was nothing else to do. Some of these girls were people that I knew she did not like. And yet she spent several hours a week talking to them. The really weird thing was that once the connection was severed, so was the relationship. Once baseball season was over, she didn't hang out with those girls anymore. And if one of the players broke up with his girl, then she was no longer part of the group. I suppose I should be in some sort of band girlfriend group. I should be hanging out with the drummer's girlfriend at shows, but I hang out by myself instead. As a result, I don't even know the girl's last name, despite us having boyfriends in the same band for over a year. I guess that's just what it's like to be me.

It's not that I don't understand about temporary relationships. I have had many. Someone I sat next to in a class one semester, an old roommate that I never bonded with, an coworker who left for another job. We had exactly one thing in common, and when that thing was done, so was our relationship, even if I talked to them often or liked them. That person is gone from my life, probably forever, and it doesn't bother me at all. Sometimes I might hang on to a relationship if I felt there was a connection with the person which went beyond whatever caused us to meet in the first place. But the ratio of people I kept to the people who have basically fallen off the face of the earth is very small.

And this baseball girlfriend thing, it's like that, except the thing you have in common is even more removed. The relationship is even more tenuous than hanging out with your boyfriend's friends. It's like letting someone else pick your friends. Two people who have a class together might have at least one interest in common. Having boyfriends that play the same sport seems even less likely to yield a connection.

Seeing my sisters-in-law over Thanksgiving made me realize that I might someday be part of a group like theirs - the members of a family who were not born into it. Then Josh and I went to a party with his step-brother and his girlfriend. I started looking at the girlfriend in a new light, realizing that if the stars aligned properly, I could be hanging out with her for the next fifty years. I could be invited to the birthday parties of her children. We might comfort each other at the death of an extended family member. It would be like we were sisters, but always with the possibility of having that tie severed. If either of our relationships ended, I would probably never see her again. We are baseball girlfriends in a neverending season.

I like the girl. I admit I am trying harder than I normally do to talk to her, because I know we might be bumping into each other at family gatherings for years. Of course, my normal social anxiety is not helped by this analysis of the situation, but that's what it's like to be me. Seriously, does anyone else in the world ever think about this stuff?

As I talk to her, I try to figure out how our relationship will develop. Will we be close, or will we just be extended family? Will we be limited to small talk at Christmas, or will we call each other up for parenting advice? How likely are two men who grew up in the same house to pick spouses that will bond with each other?

Of course, I have no answers and no foresight. I doubt you expected any, and frankly, you're surprised to find that anyone really thinks about this stuff. That's just what it's like to be me.


reckless gene.

My sisters-in-law have a support group. They get together to ask each other if their husband is weird or if their husband's whole family is weird. Usually they come away feeling better from the meeting, knowing that it's all their in-law's fault. This better prepares them to deal with the fact that their children are starting to act kinda weird, too.

I caught them in a meeting on Thanksgiving. Their item of discussion was the "reckless gene." I think everyone blames my dad for this one, though my mother is hardly Princess Grace. But Daddy has that combination of the reckless gene and testosterone. He's rolled a lawnmower over on himself and been gored by countless goats. He'll come in from outside with blood all over his face and not even know it. He once made my nephew cry by poking him in the side with a fork. The kid's mother, who has been in this family a long, long time, resolved the situation by looking at her son and calmly saying, "Honey, Grandpa is dangerous."

I never saw myself as a clumsy person until Josh told me that I was. I knew that I tripped or ran into things sometimes, but everybody does that. I don't think I do it more than anyone else, and frankly, I would like a second opinion. He is afraid of me, thinking that severe bodily harm becomes increasingly more likely the more time he spends with me. He keeps his distance every time I'm wielding something sharp. I told him the story about my dad poking my nephew with a fork, and suddenly he's hiding all the forks in the house. Sure I step on his toe every once in a while and I did stick a muddy finger in his eye once, but I resent being treated like a walking time bomb. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

One of my sisters-in-law called it "obliviousness." I think this is more accurate, and in my case, I think it's more like "lack of awareness." It's like when you're going through puberty, and your body is growing so quickly that you haven't had time to get used to its new size. So you're bumping into things and knocking into others because you haven't figured out that your arms and legs extend that far. The reckless gene is nothing more than a very extended awkward stage.

So maybe I'm clumsy, but I come by it honestly. It came with the nose. And now I have someone to blame every time I step on Josh's poor little whiny toe. It wasn't me.

It was Reckless Gene.


everything's alright.

I haven't had any contact with my ex-boyfriend since we broke up three years ago. Considering we were together about eight and a half years, a lot of people find our complete and total separation bizarre. Everyone says that they want to be friends after a break-up, but I have to tell you that total silence is a great way to encourage moving on. This person used to be the most important one in my life, now he's gone completely, so adapt NOW.

I have always figured that running into him at some point is inevitable. I imagined these confrontations being at different locations and in different situations, but the format is generally the same. Usually he had a new girl with him, usually one displaying genes which should have been ruled out by natural selection generations ago. I would be very cool and collected, wearing something modest but highlighting my natural beauty. Sometimes he would start an argument over some thing in our past relationship, whereupon I would show superior rhetoric skills and logic and prove him to be wrong, all wrong about everything that ever happened between us. If I was daydreaming in a good mood, he would start the conversation by just apologizing immediately. Then he would give me that dress mannequin that I paid $2 for a yard sale but that ended up in his apartment. The world would be right again.

So yeah, that hasn't happened. Thankfully, as time passed, my desire for such a confrontation lessened. I let go of a little bitterness, I conceded to myself that I was not so innocent with regard to the disintegration of our relationship. My imagined scenes became less confrontational, though his new girl still had a harelip and noticeable body odor. I didn't want retribution and groveling apologies so much as a sort of friendly "Hey, I'm okay, and as far as I'm concerned, everything's cool between us."

The internet makes it easier to be silent. You don't actually have to contact someone to find out what they are doing now. There are blogs and social networking sites and all that to fill the void. If he wanted to see what I was up to, all he had to do was come right here. And I go to his blog and web site periodically, just to see what's new in his world. For some reason, I am always surprised at how much he seems to be the same person. I guess I expected him to change in some really obvious way. After all, I've changed a lot. I have really long hair now and I've learned to like both South Park and beer; I'm like a completely different person.

It's actually comforting to know that he is still him and not the sort of person that would actually start a fight with me in public about five-year-old wrongs. His apparent stasis makes our relationship feel like it happened in a dream a long time ago, maybe even to someone other than me. I'm a different person, but he appears to be the same, so obviously, it must have been someone else. I'm sure if we met again, I'd be surprised at all the little things that are different about him. Perhaps he eats mayonnaise now. I can't even describe how that would blow my mind.

I don't know if we'll ever be friends again, and I'm not worried about it either way. As far as I'm concerned, everything's cool between us. He can even keep the dress mannequin.*

* I mean, if he wanted to get rid of the dress mannequin, because, like, it was taking up space and stuff, I would probably be willing to take it off his hands. You know, if he was sick of having it. That's all. It's not a big deal, and I am totally over the dress mannequin issue.


bailey park.

I'm on a yard saling expedition with Josh and Sarah, my twelve-year-old niece. It hasn't been a terrible morning as far as yard sales go, though this is Memorial Day weekend, and so there aren't a lot of sales. Still, we're driving around, following the homemade signs to whatever house has a bunch of junk piled out front. I turn into a neighborhood that has two such signs posted at the entrance and stop at a modest house. Out front were a couple of tables. As we pull up, a Hispanic woman in her thirties comes outside, leaving an unknown number of children talking inside. "They want to keep everything," she explains to us. I am curious, because though I have seen many folks from south of the border at yard sales, this one is my first where a Hispanic was hosting it.

We looked around a bit, didn't see anything we desperately needed, said a nice thank you, and left. As we drove further into the neighborhood, I noticed that all the houses were of a similar type: cookie-cutter affairs with vinyl siding, clean and new, though small. These were clearly starter homes. We followed the signs to the other yard sale in the area, and as we stopped, we saw that once again, a Hispanic woman was in charge. This time I did make a small purchase. As we got into the car, I remarked to Josh, "I think we're in Bailey Park." And because Josh is Josh, he knew what I meant.

For those of you who are not Josh, Bailey Park is the name of the neighborhood of homes built by the Bailey Building and Loan in It's a Wonderful Life. Bailey Park was where people who didn't have a lot of money could still buy their own nice, clean homes in safe neighborhoods. It was where people who immigrated here in the pursuit of the American Dream could actually find a piece of it instead of having to live under leaky roofs in high-crime areas.

Sarah asked me why I liked this neighborhood so much. To her, the houses looked fine, but not necessarily something that anyone would ever fantasize about. Josh and I tried to explain it to her, using phrases like "American Dream" and "middle-class aspirations," but I don't think we were able to communicate our feelings very well. That's okay. She's only twelve, and she'll get it someday. One day, she'll look at a neighborhood like this and be glad that places like it still exist.


the new old thing.

I sit on the floor with a roll of paper towels, a squirt bottle of off-brand window cleaner, and a paperclip. It is a Saturday afternoon, and I have come home from a morning of yard sales. I am sweaty and dirty because I just spent a few hours pawing through unwanted items in the heat. I am wearing yesterday's clothes, pulled off of my bedroom floor at 8 AM. My attention is focused on something I acquired that very morning. I am performing the ritualistic cleaning of The New Old Thing.

I apply a few generous squirts of window cleaner to The New Old Thing and begin wiping off the traces of the previous owner. Some of the stains won't come off, but the improvement is noticeable. I use the paperclip for detail work as I poke into tight spaces to get out accumulated grossness. I find that using a curved edge works better than an extended pointy end and doesn't leave scratch marks. I unscrew parts to examine them for completeness and clean them individually. I turn The New Thing upside down so as to get to some of the harder angles. Looking at this thing right-side up, you'd never even notice those dirty spots, but I am determined to be thorough.

I am welcoming The New Old Thing to my life. It used to live somewhere else, and it gave many great years of service to another. The previous owner never gave it such a scrubbing as it was receiving today. And then it was discarded, maybe reluctantly, but discarded nonetheless. It sat in the hot Saturday sunshine on a table next to other discarded things. Then I saw it, wanted it, haggled over it, bought it, and brought it home to start anew.

I know that I am never again going to clean it like this ever again. If it happened to be on the receiving end of a nasty spill, I might give it a quick wipe-down, but nothing involving disassembly or a paperclip. I bought The New Old Thing so that it could be useful to me, and it doesn't require spotlessness to do that. I already know it well enough to know that it doesn't mind being dirty, so long as it can still get the job done.

This is part of the resurrection of The New Old Thing. The first part was my buying it out of someone's trash pile. Now I'm cleaning it up to give it a fresh start. I'm getting to know it, figure out how the parts go together, what works flawlessly, what squeaks while working flawlessly. I have sat on the floor with many New Old Things, cleaning and restoring them to welcome them into my collection of New Old Things. Sometimes I tighten screws or touch up paint with colored markers.

It's the same feeling as taking a New New Thing out of its box and reading the instructions, popping the bubble wrap, reveling in the ownership of a New Thing. But in this case, we are giving an Old Thing a second chance to be New. And couldn't we all use a second chance once in a while?


2 AM.

He was kinda tipsy and her feet hurt. The bar was closing, but there was a party at someone's house and everyone was invited. He wanted to go, and her feet hurt.

He didn't know where the party was but he could definitely get a ride. He didn't know the guy who was throwing the party, but he knew the band, the members of which were friends of the guy who was throwing the party and who had been assured him that it was totally cool if he came along. He didn't get out as much as he used to in college.

It was 2 AM and her feet hurt. She'd dressed nice for the evening and was wearing high heels. They looked great but felt awful after four hours standing on a hard floor, even with the wine. The wine had worn off a while ago. She'd come to see the band with him, even though she didn't know them very well. She was happy to go, because she loved him, and she had liked the band. It had been a fun evening, but it was now 2 AM and her feet were seriously killing her.

"There's a party at someone's house," he said.

"Yeah. Is that what you want to do?" she said. She knew he wanted to go.

"Maybe," he said. He knew that her feet hurt.

There was a long silence, as they watched the other happy bar patrons exiting and going off to their parties or their homes, depending on whether their feet hurt. They both hoped for distraction from this issue, though they knew it would have to be addressed.

"You can go if you want," she said. She didn't want to be a mean girlfriend.

"No, it's okay. We can go home," he said. He didn't want to be in the doghouse.

"Are you sure?" she asked. She knew he was afraid of the doghouse, and wanted to make it clear that it really was okay if he went. Really.

"Yeah, no, it's late," he said. He didn't believe her.

He explained to his friends that he was just going to head on out, and they understood because they saw her standing next to him. She resented being seen as a ball and chain or a leash, but in the end, her feet hurt and she was secretly relieved to get her way. They walked off with his arm over her shoulder.

As they left, Josh and I turned to look at each other, both of us shaken by the surreal event of having something from your past acted out in front of you. We had stood by them, unable to tear our eyes away from the drama unfolding before us. We watched it happen exactly as it has happened between the two of us when it's 2 AM. He's gone home before he was ready, and I'd stayed out when my feet hurt. I hoped that by watching the scene between another couple, I might be able to figure out the answer. What should happen? What is the proper ending to the play?

I came up with nothing. I sympathized with him, because he was having a good time and he wanted to keep doing that. And I sympathized with her, because she'd been hanging out with his friends all evening and was trying to be understanding. Maybe the answer is that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do because other times the other person has to do things they don't want to do. It doesn't seem like much of an answer, and it won't help me the next time it's 2 AM and my feet hurt, but it's all I've got.


it's all gravy.

We were having a gravy race.

I love homemade gravy. It's delicious science, is what it is. You have some liquid, you add some thickening agent and flavor, stir awhile and there's your gravy. Why does it thicken? I don't know, that's the science part. You don't need a silly little store-bought packet. You do need patience.

I am not patient with gravy. The recipes always make it sound like a quick step. "Add the broth and then stir until thickened." I mean, that doesn't sound like very long, does it? And because I apparently have no accumulated memory, I don't remember the last time I thought making gravy wouldn't take very long and so I wonder why this time is taking so for-EV-er. I think about adding more flour or cornstarch, but I apparently do have some accumulated memory, because I remember doing that before, and it didn't turn out well. So I just keep stirring. And complaining.

We were making meatballs for Thanksgiving, 95 of them to be exact. We had rolled them out and placed them into neat little rows, like tiny rotund Swedish soldiers, ready for a battle with hunger. But my pans would only hold about thirty meatballs at a time, and so we had to cook them and their gravy in shifts. After the meatballs had been browned, it was time to make gravy. Each of us had added all the ingredients and were deep in the stirring stage. It was just a matter of whose gravy would thicken first.

You've probably never had a gravy race before. I'm not sure if ours was typical (or perhaps it was the first ever?), but there seemed to be a lot of trash talk.

"You call that gravy? That runny stuff wouldn't even clog an artery."

"It's thicker than that brown dish water you've got going over there."

"Your mama."

There was also a lot of kissing, which might seem like it didn't go with the trash talk, but we made it work.

I thought of an interpersonal psychology class I had taken a couple of years ago at a community college. We were talking about examples of quality time, ways to spend time with someone else that would allow you to bond. I suggested making dinner together. One woman thought I was crazy, as if I had just suggested a nice romantic walk across hot coals. I should look her up and suggest that she and her husband have a gravy race.