Petshark: Talking Stick
by petshark on 11/25/11 at 02:45 PM ET
Wednesday, I went with a friend to watch the Sharks beat the Blackhawks. I imagine a loss must be in the cards for me one day this season, but so far so good. My friend (who had not been to a game for a very long time) commented that I did not have enough fan gear on. I did not understand how he could miss the loud teal eyeshadow, teal shirt and Sharks scarf, but I guess he expected a fan to wear a jersey. He had good reason: a whole lot of people wear jerseys to games. Our colors are how we know each other, they create an inflated sense of kinship that, for the evening, goes well beyond a common rooting interest. To me, it feels like religion. This isn’t a novel concept, I know, but it’s a new feeling for me, since I’m not religious.
Before leaving Vancouver, I wanted to go to a Canucks game. But when Sunday night came, I almost had to blindfold and sedate myself to get out of the hotel. I was reluctant to leave my laptop, my only sure connection to the imminent Sharks game. Kicking and screaming on the inside and reminding myself I could watch the Sharks game when I got home, I dragged myself down the street until I fell in with a bunch of Canucks fans.
There’s a church I walked by every day I was in Vancouver. Each morning I thought about going in to see what it looked like inside. Each day I didn’t. Maybe I thought I couldn’t be sure there was no service going on. Maybe I just felt it was wrong to go snooping in other people’s churches.
It isn’t like I’m going to be converted or anything. It isn’t like I’d go in there to throw paint on a statue or break a window or blow out candles. It’s just that it’s someone’s sacred place and if it isn’t sacred to me I feel uncomfortable being in it. I don’t go to church, so going inside someone else’s church is weird but not any kind of disloyalty to my church. It’s not like I’m giving money to this church instead of giving it to my church, no.
But the Canucks game? Hell yes it was exactly like that. I didn’t even think before buying a scarf except that I wanted a souvenir and it was marked down, and the easiest place to carry it was around my neck. But with that gesture, I became a Canucks fan impersonator, a fraud. I could have even been charged with bandwagoning. After all, I was dressed like a Canucks fan without any sincere interest in the team’s success.
I didn’t recognize my mistake until a man asked me if I thought “they would win tonight,” and we talked a bit and eventually I said I was from Northern California, to which he said I must be a Kings fan, I corrected him, etc, etc. But somewhere in there he mentioned that he thought I was a Canucks fan because of the scarf.
I noticed that the Sharks-Avs game was 1-0 Avs. It was being shown on the tv screens all around the concourse. A woman who had joined in the conversation about California hockey noticed this too and reassured me: “oh, it’s just the first period, they’ll sort it out.” I thought that was very kind of her.
I went to watch warm ups.
That’s when I saw Aaron Rome down there, and that’s when I suddenly felt less like a tourist and more like an accidental whore. How can I be here with absolutely zero rooting interest in the game? I could see Lapierre. The Sedins. This has gone too far, I thought. Where is Manny? Maybe if I could see Manny this could be okay.
Twisting my scarf, I started thinking “Go Sens, Go!” like a hastily composed Hail Mary. It must have been one powerful ad-libbed prayer because the Sens did pretty well, considering.
My mood improved when the out of town scoreboard showed the Sharks had taken the lead and finally won. Then it became important for the Canucks to score. I wanted to see how the crowd reacted to a home team goal. Obviously they would be happy, but I wondered if their ritual was different from others I had seen. When the Canucks did score, I didn’t notice a particular ritual, aside from loud applause. It wasn’t like the chanted “Hey” in the Tank.
In the end, I couldn’t feel strongly about the Sens winning or losing, except that I was glad for a close game. For the Canucks to win was even fine with me. There were all those people there to watch them: leaning forward slightly during a rush, muttering “come on, boys!” or throwing heads back and hands up when a Canuck missed a shot or Auld made a good save. It would have very been disappointing for the Canucks to lose.
On my way to the airport the next morning, walking by that church, I noticed a sign out front that read: “Visitors Welcome.” Of course the whole point of a church, or most churches, is to get more people to come in. They want more to join. Maybe since I knew I wasn’t going to join, I needed to be invited. I went in, baggage and all. I did a little tour of the stained glass windows and the plaques about casualties of war and an organ, dropped a few bucks in the donations box, and noticed the visitor’s book. It asked for my name and where I was from/home church. I put down my home town and thought how probably most people go to church in the town they live in. It makes sense, but I still felt like a liar implying that I attend church in my town when I don’t.
I used to go to church occasionally, as a child. I guess I didn’t go voluntarily, I was taken there. I remember sermons that included a tale of some sort, a happy one or a sad one, with some lesson to teach or a message of hope. Even at an early age I would argue with the details of the story, the premise or descriptions of certain characters. (“But Mommy, the Jews didn’t kill Jesus! That man’s a liar.”) Nevertheless, I got the gist of it. It all boiled down to “struggle on.”
It isn’t just about the stories. It’s also about the group of people all listening to the same story and hoping for the same positive outcome. Sort of like an attentive hockey game audience. Call it blasphemy or overly simplistic, but I prefer the way a hockey game tells that story, it lacks those judgmental details that used to agitate me. So no, I don’t go to church in my home town. The closest thing I have to a church is in San Jose.
I’ve decided that it’s even okay to go into someone else’s church if you’re on the road or can’t get access by tv or radio. Like today, there is no Sharks game, so I’ll join the Red Wings crowd for a day. Why not the Bruins? Why not root against our conference rivals? Maybe I’m provincial, maybe I’m overly committed to the idea that West is best. A Red Wings win will hold me over until tomorrow when I get to feel perfectly comfortable rooting against the Canucks again.
So, go… West!
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About Petshark: Talking Stick
Native of Northern California. Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.
I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle. I watch, I react, I write it down.
My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked. I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind. When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom. It hasn't, I don't think it will. At all.
Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.
I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.
I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at email@example.com