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Gordie Howitzer

LIFE IN THE HOCKEY IMPERIUM:
ST. JOSEPH, GORDIE HOWE AND THE BARBER’S PART

THE REAL IDEAL 

I had true modest heroes, well suited for a good life. Catholicism provided the fabric and measure. My elders were cut from the very cloth of St. Joseph. He was a family man and carpenter.  A Workaday Joe.  And, most of all, a servant to a higher authority that he didn’t question.

Such background saints mind their rank. They’re God’s jobbers from start to finish. In the family fold were such worthy Joes as Stan Jarzoski: a former US Army scout who landed on Omaha Beach and stalked behind Nazi lines until V-E Day. A strapping 6 footer, quiet as a prayer, he worked in the field of death even as he pushed a lawnmower. Then for every true light there was a stray shadow. Like my Uncle Art who was a closet homosexual, a self-taught painter of lurid scenes, and a butcher in my dad’s shop who only arrived drunk when sobriety was needed most during the holiday stampedes.

There you go: hero and drunkard balanced to turn the eternally unfinished wheel of parish life. But it’s too quaint. What about about the haloed giants, taller than church steeples, visible from afar? Gordie Howe was such a landmark Joe. He was a monumental model of Christian piety who, when the puck dropped, became a hunter-killer-thriller with tufts of otherworldly grace.

All the locals loved Gordie. He was the real ideal.

THE PAGAN-CATHOLIC HOCKEY CALENDAR  

In sportswriter’s terms, Howe had a dominant presence on the ice. In boy cosmologist’s terms, Howe had much, much more. He had numinous presence, a legendary presence, a muscular-mystical presence in the flatlands of SE Michigan where the sewage from the steel-mils seeped into the swamps of Lake Erie.

Howe’s fame was the same on the Canadian side of the shipping channel where my sober uncle owned a tug-boat company. Tugs are the St. Joe’s, the brawny and dutiful seconds, of the Great Lakes fleet. Furthermore, gulls are angels if you’re privy to the backwater animism and nature worship written into Roman Catholic legalese. Strange but true! As far as life goes, I had to start somewhere. I started in the cradle of Pagan-Catholic-Borderline stuff.

Tugs and gulls were hyper-real. So were whispers in the wind and specters on the water. So was my loneliness. Incubating as a baby-faced Joe in a crystal blaze of winter, I had a hunch. Uh-oh. I had a badly heated, angry adolescent hunch that my dear childhood heroes were letting their wives, priests and politicians do all the talking. Of course, that’s what real men-of-action do! But still. What about the reflective child, not the usual narcissist, who sees his face in mirrors of ice? It has a cold-cold attraction. And while every hoary Joe knows that cabin fever is bad, only a few very disturbed Joes know that cure in the open air, sparkling with light at the nadir of winter, can be worse.

Call it what you want. Psychological disturbance. Psychic disturbance. Maybe a fairy tale blend of both. But even as a minor rube with my balls shrinking in the cold, I had a big hairy hunch that my folks needed a hyper-voice to speak to the world and speak for themselves. It happened one day! Yes, it happened one ordinary day in the ordinary life of an ordinary Joe walking a fresh carpet of snow. I suddenly had a hunch, quite disturbing for a Child of Jesus, that my folks needed a borderline Wagner to chart the rolling mists, crackling ice-flows and razor-backed currents of the Detroit River in January. The site-specific haunt! The metallic Rhine Jr! The steel grey soul-scape for Gordie Howe’s hammer arms, Red Wing jersey and flashing skates.

It was too much. It was an aesthetically sound but morally iffy glimpse into the Sacred Heart of Time. The magnification of Creation’s core pulse, wherein avatars are beat into shape, was a-okay for a religious kid. But the exaggeration of my own creative impulse was as problematic as egomania in the Renaissance. Let me put this in proper Catholic terms. Every Pope with a scepter knows that heresy is a truth taken too far. And every altar boy at a pisser knows that if you shake it more than twice you’re playing with it. What I’m saying is that it was fine, within customary limits, to see Gordie Howe as seasonal hockey god. But it was very, very touchy to see him as was seasonal hockey god who was dormant in summer when there was an abundance of florid glee and birds ‘n bees in the bushy air. A cyclical Wotan! Yes, I saw Mr. Howe as a cyclical Wotan, with local accents, who appeared in the dead of winter when all was lost.

Very, very touchy. A synthesis of real poetic genius to retard the instant I put it in words! No wonder, in drunk’s terms, I didn’t know whether to shit or puke. Now, as a learned hick, I can defend my awful silence with Rilke’s line, “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror”. But as a kid I was dumbstruck by the timely synchronicity. I just didn’t have the lyrical spit for Howe’s redressed avatar’s fit into the Church-Hockey-Astropagan calendar. Staring into the heavy northern heavens, I only had the vision. It meant something.

TROPHY  EUGENICS AND THE BALD TRUTH

Yes, I had true modest heroes. Easily overlooked between the ends of NYC and LA. From the heights of a Shyster’s jet: an underwhelming land for an underwhelming people! A pale settlement for goyim! A static pool of yeoman nobodies with purely economic fluctuations between good debt and bad debt.

My country within a country. My cold and hearty people. Furthermore, my overlooked species of inbred White Country Folks with no more hyprid-vigor than a lean hillbilly iron worker crossed with a stout Irish-Catholic wench. That’s God’s Plan for agile defensemen and power forwards. Every rutting Joe knows. So does every dear girl in estrus. Only the town barber knows, as a comber of truths, that it’s also the non-Nazi secret of Trophy Eugenics in the Hockey Imperium.

Howe Holycard IIThe Hockey Imperium, for those on the inside, is a Medieval State of Mind that religiously rules from lower Michigan to upper Ontario. A subconscious Holy Roman Empire with shrines, banners, spires and festive tournaments. My mono-culture! Maybe evolved. Maybe devolved. Maybe timeless. Most certainly a custom-made Pucktopia of spirited sport in glove: city, state and regional jousts with trophy of virgins, if you’re lucky, in the bleachers. Like anything else in life, it’s all hooey until the moment of truth. My brother is testimony to that. He played goalie on a championship team that asserted authority, like deputized knights, all along the frontier. He renewed the dynasty. He upheld the realm and family standard. He verified the lore like a saintly enough Joe on a mission that was much, much larger than himself. True to his calling, he nailed it!

Too much Medieval chew on my bib? Too much gah-gah from the cradle of Dark Age élan? Just take the high moral arc on the Rainbow Express between NY and LA. Just look down on my homeland as a hotbed of neo-Klan and trigger-happy militia. A dysgenic fucktopia of pogromatic hicks! Papists, bible-thumpers and cross-bred racists! Then you can trash, even White Trash, my boy-to-man travelogue.

THE CRITICAL CRISIS 

 Now for the critical crisis. Not the usual crucible in the so called “Multi-Cult”. That’s marquee code for race mix-up. Preached by pulpiteers who’re born to rule: inbred intelligencia, sticky IQ fetishists and embedded reformers at a price.

God bless ‘em. The righteous fuckers have, at least, an ongoing class. A hip allegiance to their own rich stock. Furthermore, I’m not privy to Grand Design outside the Hockey Imperium built upon the remnants, lakes and ponds, of the Ice Age. I’m geo-teleptically limited. So I can’t be 100% sure that there’s no treasure at the end of Rainbow America’s overarching, messianic and tutti-fruity arc. I luv-luv-luv anyone who really believes that lore. But I have enough problems with my own Pagan-Catholic proof. Which, as my brother knows, is nailed in the living.

Trust me, I tried be the strong silent type. But at the first blush of crisis I saw fairy dust in the powdered snow and gold lamé gowns in the scavenging carp. Wagner was in the leaden grey clouds but something else was in the skirts of snow. A fluffy-fickle soulfulness! A girly-girly joy in the bosom of Winter’s Hag. All of Mother Nature colder than a witch’s tit yet, no heresy intended, “redeemed” by majestic-angelic kisses in flurries. Uh oh. This was a mated peek into the Sacred Heart of Time. Which is to say I was showered with a motherlode of bridal laundry, streaming white veils with silver stitches, at Zero Hour when all was lost. Thanks but no thanks for the glimpse into the cosmic wheel! There’s been a mistake! For one thing, I wasn’t ready for the executive poet’s vocation to see the Nature of Woman as more than pussy and, within that nascent study, to see any stout homegirl as more than an incubator of agile defensemen and power-forwards. I lacked this. I lacked that. I had no maturity, even, to fuck-up! And so I froze, painfully dumbfounded, in a swirl of laced sugars that you’d have to be a Mozart, a buck sissy, a real Olympian amongst all kinds of flakey flakes to master.

This wasn’t normal. It was miraculous at best and cruel at worst. I’d been given a very big job without blue-prints. With only a model failure, Uncle Art, to provide range in the werks that mocked my intestines. Mea-culpa. I’m so sorry. I’ve never recovered from the Pagan-Catholic-Poet’s epiphany. If only my critical crisis had rushed me to the threshold of Social Justice work. I coulda-woulda-shoulda been a slick New Age Joe bringing the Human Family to my hometown! And I’ll be the first to admit that there’s much to be said for going wide in the well-rounded world instead of going deep-deep-deep into your own cold interior.

No such luck. Instead, I was fated to receive the miracle heft of Virgin Mary flurries and war-cloud Valkyries that buried Uncle Art. No wonder he didn’t know, given a glimpse of super-beauty, whether to shit or go blind. Sure he was a homo. So what? You’d have to be a spiritually spent shrink, a techno-humanist-clinician connecting dots on a godless chart, to say that his critical crisis was “penis” as such. Please!

Uncle Art was called to be an artist. In curator’s terms, he was called to be a painter of local color. In cosmologist’s terms, he was called to be a wizard with a provincial palate. More than a craftsman and less than a saint, he was given to be a psychic medium. A wand smith. A wand smith with a tuft of wet XXX hairs at the far extreme of his brush with an eternally recurring canvas of pure virgin potential. That was the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, of his sorry life.

It was too much.

SQUARING THE WHEEL 

Uncle Art heard the call deep inside the crotch of fate. He tilted like a half-hearted sport with a sorry thrust and guess what? He made his non-splash in the common pool and/or bum toilet. Put plainly, he died as both a failed Joe Normal and a failed artist.

Howe Family III copy

No guts, no glory. No raw heroic effort, no epic-operatic tragedy. That’s the cold-cold law of Pagan Nature that’s worked into Roman Catholic mythos. Furthermore, to release Uncle Art from the afterlife of burning slander, very few men manage to “Square the Wheel” of parish life. Very few men succeed as Regular Joes and Stellar Joes at once. Like Gordie Howe. He was a shy Canadian farmboy who, moved by destiny, got his start at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. He became a hockey god. He realized his towering 360 degree genius for pretty goals, borderline cheats and ugly brawling.

And Howe let his wife, an astute reader of small print in hockey contracts, do all the talking. Everyone loved Gordie. Everyone, in the milky white bosom of the Hockey Imperium, loved the Howe family. They nailed the evergreen dynamic.

                                                                              THE BARBER’S PART

I’ve tried to convey the spirit of my grooming along the shore where the smoke stacks padded the clouds. And where the local color faded under the dead-weight of winter. If you don’t get my hyper-drift? If you think that I’m mythologizing too much about cold-grey horizons downwind from Detroit? Then talk to a starving deer, a young buck, at the edge of an ice-pond at sunset. He’s knows the legendary chill of winter in the sticks. He’s a living symbol of the haunt.

The town barber, for his part, remains a shapeshifting constant. In backwater poesy, he’s a super-animated anchor whose job is to be as deep or shallow as the guy in his chair. In fair language, he’s a two-bit shrink who diagnoses heads within the limits of the hippocratic oath and frontier codes. In all cases, he’s tempered by seasoned knowledge. He knows that, like timeless masterpieces, one can hardly say what makes his fishy mono-culture whole. There a single congenital spiral in the lakes, rivers, swamps, and air. You’re born into it. Customer A says a soulful prayer to primordial shore gods after shooting a deer for venison steaks and trophy antlers. Customer B blushes with venal pride, exquisitely mean, after shooting a rogue squirrel with a .22 rifle, through a steel reinforced milk chute, who dared crawl down the rusty chain to raid his wife’s bird-feeder hanging from a lilac bush outside her kitchen window. And so it goes.

Inside the tinted door of Gino’s Barbershop, not at all transparent in the Liberal Democratic way, there’s a deeply seated commerce in individual styles within the local fold. Sharing a mirror, Gino puts every man’s prize pagan cowlick in place with a final dab, after all, of Christian Morality. And that’s that. See ya soon!

Gino has solved himself and more. He’s squared the Wheel of Parish Life in his own modest style. He’s a model man even as he ruptures the template and yaps like a diplomat’s mistress. Who cares? Go for it! Show us how! He’s been groomed through the generations since his great-grandpappy drew first-blood on a pink ear. Gino has aced the proofs! He has a barber’s license, an ex-Marine’s license, and a full-blooded Italian’s license to magnify touchy feelings like Paganini or Caruso gone North. Not bad work if you can get it! And the barber get’s it right.

Boy oh boy. Man oh man. As far as my life goes, from start to finish, I can’t say more. I just hope, with all the sincerity that a rambling Joe can muster, that I’ve nailed it.

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This piece first appeared in Counter Currents Publishing 

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