Sunday, April 18, 2010

Man Love

After a gratifying win, the Utica Club hockey team posed for a picture at this weekend’s CanAm tournament in Lake Placid, the goalie front row center. The mood was celebratory, teammates slapping the goalie’s shoulders. “I’ve never felt such man love,” the goalie said, and the left wing leaned over and tried to kiss his cheek. “Awww,” the goalie said and shook his head.

I was one of a handful of wives accompanying husbands to the tournament and witnessed men over forty transforming into the boys they were when their moms ferried them to the ice rink decades past. They were silly and playful. The videographer got shots of them flexing aging biceps in the locker room, pulling in puffy stomachs and puffing out sagging chests. One guy wore fake teeth that made him look as if he’d taken a few pucks to the mouth. “Hockey is a dangerous sport,” he said, “and you need protection.” He held up two packets of condoms.

Twenty-two teams played 27 games of hockey in three days using all three rinks at the Lake Placid Olympic Center. After every game, each player was given two tickets for free pints of watery domestic beer at the rink’s bar. After Friday night’s games, most players drank up their tickets and then loaded into the hotel night club for more refreshment. Our hotel room was across from the night club, and the revelry kept us awake until after 3:00 a.m.

“Guys without wives,” I said to H, who had come to bed at a reasonable hour, all things considered. The next morning I asked for a room at the far end of the hall.

“You won’t be with your team,” the desk clerk said.

“That’s okay,” I replied.

After H’s morning game on Saturday, we went out to catch lunch and saw some of the revelers buying souvenirs at the shops on Main Street. Conciliatory gifts for bad behavior, I suspected. But it was all in fun, and I didn’t mind losing a little sleep to see “man love” in action. After all, I grew up with three brothers and raised two sons. I know how important camaraderie is.

The previous weekend, Fern Forest Treehouse hosted two Harvard undergrads, one of whom was delighted to have his sister’s car for a couple days. Peter is majoring in the politics of community and had just organized a “Best of Harvard” event where selected faculty talked about what drove their passion for their discipline. Collin is a religion major, a small but fervent department at Harvard.

They arrived on Monday afternoon, skipping out on a few classes. We gave them a glass of cider, and they gawked at Mt. Abe, a clear view from our living room. Mt. Abe is just over four thousand feet in elevation, but, coming from Northern Virginia and Atlanta, neither of them had seen a mountain that close up. They were determined to give it a go and set out for a hike in sneakers and shorts. On the way up the Battel Trail, they encountered snow, ice and cold and decided to give up and grab a bite to eat at Snap’s in Bristol. When they came back to Fern Forest, we gave them sweet tea and cookies before they bedded down in the treehouse’s two bunks. Neither of them drinks alcohol. “We’re good guys,” Collin told me when he booked the treehouse. They were.

Collin runs the Hahvahd Tour, an unauthorized tour of Harvard that has received a lot of press since it began in 2006. He delivers awful puns to his patrons, like the one about an elevator built in the dorm of John F. Kennedy. “You can become a great American President and still get the ‘shaft’ at Harvard!” he tells them. When he informs the curious about how Widener Library was named for Harry Widener, a rare book collector who went down with the Titanic, he adds, “Did you let that one ‘sink in’?” It was no joke, however, when he learned that H’s great grandparents were also on the Titanic. His great grandfather went down with the ship, and his great grandmother found herself in a lifeboat with young Harry’s mother Mrs. Widener and Lady Astor. When a cabin boy floundered near their lifeboat, H’s ancestor grabbed him by the collar and hauled him aboard—it was strictly forbidden to rescue anyone in the water—and she hid him under her fur coat, saving his life. I wondered if that story would become part of the unauthorized tour.

Collin, the Atlanta boy, applied to Harvard on a lark and was surprised to be accepted. But he has learned to appreciate all things Crimson, and, representing the eighth consecutive generation of Harvard men in his family, H saw an opportunity to educate the two young men. First he showed them his old leather hockey helmet, which helped him score his team to victory in the ’71 ECAC Championship. Next came his grandfather’s 1946 Crimson yearbook. I brought out the ’70 yearbook with the centerfold of naked students swimming in the Adams House pool. “They’ve filled that in,” Collin said. “It’s an amphitheater now.” I can see why. They seemed impressed by the silver martini shakers and pitcher that had been awarded to H’s grandfather for service to the Fly Club and the reunion committee. I’m not sure they noticed the red letter jacket with “HARVARD” emblazoned in white across the back. It belonged to H’s father and hangs as a sort of monument in our mud room.

The night before, I peeked out the window and saw lights were still on in the treehouse at midnight and the boys were studying. When they came to the breakfast table at 7:30 a.m. so they could get an early start to be at Tuesday’s classes, I asked, “How much sleep do y
ou usually get?” Peter said he needs a lot of sleep, but Collin has three priorities. The first is to his friends—surviving Harvard is no easy task, and he often stays up until midnight counseling the stressed and overwhelmed. I imagine he might go into the ministry some day. His second priority is to his studies, which often keeps him up until the wee hours. With whatever time is left, he sleeps.

H’s hockey team won the gold medal in the tournament this weekend. He had an assist on the first goal and scored the second unassisted. Somewhere along the line he acquired a bad cut on the lip, but he was so focused on the game he doesn’t remember getting it. It was about playing his best, supporting the team. I suspect it was also about man love and camaraderie. He’s been out of Harvard for almost four decades, but, like Peter and Collin, H has his priorities. And I’m not a bit jealous.