Telegrams from Tallapoosa


I’d like to thank you all for your support. Shirts have been moving out the door, which means I have been reengaged to spin you another tale. In practical terms, road kill is off my menu, and possum pie is cooking in the oven. So on with the show.

This telegram is about Where Have You Gone My French Canadian. I’m constantly hearing that society is becoming more civilized. I’ve never met society, but I can assure you that I am devolving. For those without a dictionary, being civilized means attaining a state of bored bloodlessness. Case in point: When I am lucky enough to attend a baseball game where a bat wielding melee breaks out, the stands go wild. When the good times finally subside, some civilized sort will invariably announce, “There’s no place for that sort of thing in baseball.” After I wipe the dog froth off my mouth, I shake my head in agreement. It’s not that I concur with his pretentious passiveness, but he’s right in that baseball’s structure doesn’t promote these wonderful dugout clearing brawls. Which is why I don’t go to baseball games anymore. Which is why I used to enjoy going to hockey games.

Used to. Hockey’s knuckle busting glory days are gone. They’ve been replaced with a United Nations on ice. An influx of Europeans has brought us an age of peace and prosperity. No insult is so severe that it cannot be discussed rationally by a level headed group of players. They skate around and make resolutions at each other. If the infraction recurs the players promise to pass sanctions on the other team. Lady spectators can wear fancy dresses, secure in the knowledge no blood will be flying their way. Men can conduct business on their Blackberries. It’s all safe and proper, nothing like the past when fans used to watch games in stages of fury. You used to not notice the cold air settling into the stands. What the hell happened? Where did hockey go? The answer will take a small sociology lesson.

North of the United States is Canada, which is filled with Canadians. A Canadian is just like you and me, only nicer. Bend a knee on the sidewalk to tie your shoe, and some Canadian will inquire if you’re having a heart attack, and offer you some free health care. However, there is a dark side to Canada. The plain Canadians refer to them collectively as The Purple Smurf, but they are known to the rest of the world as French Canadian. These malcontents are doppelgangers of an evaporated British empire, trying to resurrect a tinhorn clout that never existed. Their culture can be summed up in one concise action: a kick to the cojones. “You are not welcome. Leave your money. Get out.” So the French Canadians live on in the hinterland, pretending they don’t speak English, and desperately hoping their European counterparts won’t show up and tell them they’re sucking snails out of the wrong end of the shell. I have no use for these people. Until they strap on a pair of skates.

Ice warlords. The rinks were once full of them, skating backwards with their hair flowing over their scarred faces. They didn’t just win games, they beat the other team. The final score was the beginning, a week later they’d send your goalie’s colon back in a carved out moose skull. There were Wheel of Fortune names like Stutterbom and Hoy (pronounced Who-Lee-A) stretching across the backs of jerseys. These weren’t thugs; they were fighters racing down the ice on razor blades. Their hockey skills were imperious, but it was the dispensation of frozen justice that set them apart. In the stands you could see the respect and you could smell the fear. The anticipation, fights, and aftermath rolled into back alley life lessons. Society cringed at the most glorious disgrace to ever fill an arena. The fourth estate of pro sports was raw and pure.

They used to say that if you took a girl to a hockey game you were looking for the perfect woman, or the perfect way to break up. Who notices a domestic squabble in the middle of a bloodletting? Hockey was an experience, not safe entertainment. The fights saved the game from being just another business. Skating, shooting, and checking were the flesh and blood of the sport, but at its core were the flying fists. That violent jolt gripped the fans in primal fashion. A ticket guaranteed you a trip to a place where men moved over sheets of ice and the rules of society need not apply. All hockey had to have was a group to supply the fearless physicality en masse. The French Canadians gave them all they could handle.

So where did that great French Canadian mob go? Some are still around, but their domination is over. Did the Europeans drive them away? No. They share the fate of many endangered species; they lost their habitat. The center ice shifted and they were left behind. Money called. Opportunity was pockmarked with compulsory helmet usage and fight suppression rules. Business men didn’t want warriors, they wanted team players. The league traded its soul so it could become a brand.

Better to break than to bend. I wouldn’t have wanted them to change. People eventually forget what they’re missing and take what they can get. It’s hard to explain the beauty of broken sticks and missing teeth, but it was there. Now we have civility. The kids can go to the game for bobble head night. The advertisers can sleep like babies. All the bullies are gone.

Until next time. Buy a shirt.

Your Friend with Benefits,


- - - - - Read more from Elgin Wells at Associated Content.