My apologies in advance for this awful display of fiction. It has been a long time since I wrote a story. I woke up at 4something this morning and wrote most of this before the sun came up. That’s my excuse.
“Hey, Drew! What’s happening?” That’s Darryl talking. He’s the guy who does second-level technical support in the office. If his lackeys can’t get the job done, they call on him. He’s the big gun. But he’s known around the office primarily for being a hockey fan, and not just a guy who dabbles in the game either. This guy is hardcore. He has had season tickets for as long as he can remember, and those things aren’t cheap in Toronto. He spends thousands of dollars every year and goes to every home game. If the Leafs are on the road, he’s in his living room, watching the game. Sometimes he even travels to Buffalo or Ottawa to cheer on the team. Every year he buys a new team jersey. Not the imitations, mind you, but the genuine jersey endorsed by the team – the one with the draw strings and the little vents under the armpits. The ones that cost $350.
“Oh, hey man. Not much,” said Drew. Drew is in the sales team and has an office down the hall from Darryl.
“Doing anything exciting this weekend?”
“Not really. I was just going to hang around with the family. Maybe mow the lawn.”
“I’ve got an extra ticket to the game on Saturday. Do you want to go?”
Darryl is always giving away tickets to the game. Hockey is not nearly as enjoyable when one watches the game alone. And his wife had long since tired of going to the games with him.
“I don’t know. I’m not a big hockey fan.”
“Dude! These are eighty dollar tickets! People wait in line for hours for these things.”
Drew looked around the room. He looked everywhere but at Darryl. A bit sheepishly he replied, “Problem is, I don’t really understand the game. You know, it’s all good for you, but for me it’s kind of embarrassing sitting in a room with 20,000 people who all know what’s going on when I don’t have a clue.”
Drew had grown up in England and had just moved to Canada a few years earlier. Like all Brits he had a fascination with soccer, and also enjoyed watching some rugby. He had never really caught on to cricket, though he had had to play it all the way through school.
Darryl lowered his voice a little bit. “This game will be perfect for you. There are so many people in the country that don’t understand the game anymore that the league has decided to make Saturday night games Inquirer Games.”
“What’s an Inquirer Game?”
“It’s a lot like the regular game, but it’s designed specifically for people who just aren’t comfortable stepping into an arena. Some people have had bad experiences with arenas in the past, and some just don’t understand what’s going on. So these games try to bridge that gap.”
“But I just wouldn’t enjoy it! I don’t know when to sit down, when to stand up, when to cheer, when to boo!”
“Drew! It’s an Inquirer Game! It doesn’t matter if you stand or sit. You can boo or cheer whenever you want. Heck, you can do the wave all on your own if you want.”
“Have you seen the rule book for hockey? It has to be 300 pages. At least! I’ll have no idea what’s going on!”
“You don’t need to know the rules to have a good time. Just go, be yourself and have fun. It’s going to be a great night!”
Drew sighed. He felt defeated. “Alright, I’ll go.”
Saturday night rolled around and precisely two hours before game time, Darryl pulled up in front of Drew’s house. Drew was waiting anxiously inside the door. He gave his wife a quick kiss and walked out to the car.
“This is going to be great,” Darryl said. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
“I thought you’d be wearing your jersey.”
“I usually do, but not for the Inquirer Games. They ask us not to in case they make other people feel like there is some kind of dress code. It can also offend out-of-towners if they’re cheering for the other team.”
As they drove Darryl chatted, rambling on about the Maple Leafs – his favorite players, the strength of the organization and the growth in the popularity of the sport. Drew nodded politely when appropriate and answered questions when required, but mostly sat in silence.
Finally they pulled into a lot near the stadium that was prominently marked with a sign emblazoned with the word “Inquirers.”
“Lots of parking,” Drew remarked as he watched a man in a blue vest cleaning up bits of paper and trash from the ground. Other men in blue blazers were directing traffic.
“Yup. A stadium can’t survive if there isn’t lots of parking, can it?” said Darryl cheerfully.
They walked towards the arena. As they approached the door, another man in a blue vest smiled warmly a took a step towards them. Plastered to his vest was a printed sticker that read, “Hello My Name Is STAN.” “Hi! My name’s Stan. Is this your first time here?” He seemed genuinely friendly.
Darryl replied for both of them. “Not for me, but it is for him. I’m Darryl and this is Drew.”
“Welcome! Welcome! We’re glad to have you here today. Tonight we’re hoping that everyone will wear nametags. Is it okay if I make one for you?”
Darryl nodded. Stan walked over to a table that had stacks of stickers and a few Sharpies lying on it. He returned a moment later with stickers for each of them. After putting the stickers on their chests and handing them a few pieces of paper they shook hands with Stan and walked into the stadium.
“You know,” Darryl said. “They usually call this the ‘Air Canada Centre.’ But for Inquirer Games they prefer to call it an activity centre.”
Drew mumbled something he thought sounded polite. But by this time his eyes were wide. He looked around the activity centre, taking in the thousands of seats, quickly filling with other people, most of whom were wearing nametags.
“24E and 24F. Here we are!”
They sat down. Their seats were red and padded. Quite comfortable, especially in comparison to the hard benches that pass for seating in the stadium back in London. Drew took the opportunity to look through the papers Stan had given him.
“What’s with the suggestion card?,” he asked Darryl.
“If you think of some things that would make the game better, jot them down and turn the card in at the end of the game. They’re always looking to make the game better.”
“But I don’t know anything about the game. I don’t even like the game!”
“But that’s what makes your input valuable. Just tell them what would make you like the game.”
Drew shook his head.
“Is that a band down there?” he asked, pointing to a group of guys hastily arranging their instruments just beyond the glass on the far side of the activity centre.
“Yup. They’re called The Forwards. They play during the Inquirer Games. There’s still an organ that plays during other games, but they know that it’s an old-school instrument and people don’t really relate to it anymore. So they brought in a band. These guys rock!”
A few minutes later the band began to play, “Take Me Out To The BallGame,” substituting a few words here and there to make it appropriate to hockey. The words flashed up on the video screens overhead and a few people joined in the music. Most just talked amongst themselves, biding their time. A few minutes later they launched into a rocking version of “The Good Old Hockey Game.” They bypassed the verses and chose instead to simply repeat the chorus.
Oh! The good old hockey game,
Is the best game you can name;
And the best game you can name,
Is the good old Hockey game!
Five minutes after the game was supposed to have started the announcer sounded over the loudspeakers. Drew glanced to Darryl and whispered, “Aren’t they going to sing the national anthem?”
Darryl smiled. “No, some people don’t like it. Especially Americans. So they don’t sing it at these games. I mean, come on! Nobody ever sings the anthem anymore excepting at sporting events, so they leave it out.”
The announcer spoke up. “Ladies and gentlemen. We’d like to welcome you to tonight’s game featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Ottawa Senators.”
Drew quickly tuned him out. Or he did until the announcer began to introduce people.
“Tonight’s facilitator for the Toronto Maple Leafs is Paaaaat Quinn!”
“What’s a facilitator?”
“They used to call them coaches, but people associate that with hierarchy. So at these games, instead of telling the players what to do, they facilitate a game plan where all of the players contribute. Quinn’s job tonight is to help all of the players understand how they can be better players and better people.”
Players began to file onto the ice.
“Hey Darryl, why aren’t they wearing uniforms?”
“It’s an Inquirer Game. If they wore uniforms they wouldn’t fit in, would they?”
“So how do we tell them apart? They’re all wearing jeans and t-shirts.”
“That’s the point, man. We’re here for them as much as they’re here for us. We don’t need to be able to tell them apart.”
“Aren’t there usually lines on the ice? A red one and two blues?”
“You’d see them if you came back next week, but they take them off for these games. They confuse people too much.”
The game began with a bang. The Leafs won the faceoff and their forwards sped down the ice. It was then that Drew noticed the net was undefended. “What happened to the tender?”
“You call him a goalie in hockey. We don’t need ’em. This is a celebration! No goalies means more goals and that means more celebrating!” Darryl stood up and did a spontaneous, solo wave. No one seemed to disapprove.
The puck found its way into the opposing team’s net and the crowd went wild. The band struck up a rousing chorus repeating the words, “Go Leafs Go” just a few times too many.
The referee waved his semaphore (whistles being far too obnoxious, outdated and difficult to understand) and the action began again.
Drew was beginning to enjoy himself. This wasn’t so bad, was it? No one cared if he knew the game or not. No one cared if he didn’t know when to cheer or boo or even if he despise the game itself. They were just glad that he was here to celebrate with them.
Two hours later the game wrapped up with the home team winning 86 to 73. Drew’s face was positively glowing. His eyes were bright and his hands were red from clapping.
“So did you have a good time,” asked Darryl as he headed towards the parking lot, his voice hoarse from shouting and cheering.
“I did! It was great.”
For a moment Drew looked pensive. A little quieter he said, “But it wasn’t really hockey was it? I mean…I still don’t know anything about the game.”
Darryl smirked. “Not if you mean hockey the way your grandpa played it. And not if you mean hockey the way the rule book tells you to play it. But you had a good time, right?”
“Yeah, it was great!”
“Then that’s what matters, right? You had a good time.”
“I guess so. Do you have an extra ticket for next Saturday?”