Tuesday, July 08, 2008
The other day, in connection with Canada Day greetings to our friends from The Great White North, I mentioned playing hockey. No big surprise there, I suppose. It’s near impossible to mention Canada without mentioning hockey, too. However, I also told you that I played it at 3am, while on acid. True story.
I grew up in Dorchester Lower Mills, a neighborhood of Boston. Ever since I was a little kid, the Boston Bruins owned the city during the winter. I was a big Celtics fan, but nobody else in my neighborhood was. Boston was a hockey town. Even when the Bruins were fighting to stay out of last place, they packed the old Boston Garden.
In my early youth, the biggest stars on the team were Johnny "The Chief" Bucyk and Teddy Green. Bucyk had Indian blood, thus the nickname. He was the scorer on the team, netting 25 or 30 goals a season. Green, though, was probably the most popular player. He was a defenseman. He was also the team’s "enforcer." Terrible Teddy would always be among the league leaders in penalty minutes. With the team constantly finishing in the cellar, watching Teddy Green whale the bejeezus out of someone was the big draw.
The fortunes of the Bruins changed pretty much overnight with the addition of one Robert G. Orr to the team.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another athlete as revered as Bobby Orr is in Boston. Bobby Orr achieved (and continues to hold) a sort-of civic sainthood.
Orr, so far as can be divined, never did anything to even remotely tarnish his legendary status. He started his career with the Bruins and he became part of the business community of the city after his retirement. While he played, he was utterly electric. He truly revolutionized his sport. Nobody had ever seen a defenseman with such amazing offensive skills. His end-to-end rushes are still amazing to watch some 40 years after the fact. He was doing stuff nobody had ever seen before and his opponents hadn't a clue on how to stop him. And he was truly loved. There are still grown men around the city of Boston who will tear up when discussing the travesty of Orr finishing his career as a Chicago Blackhawk rather than as a Bruin.
Anyway, after Orr joined the team (along with other great players like Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers, Fred Stanfield, John "Pie" McKenzie, Wayne Cashman, and Derek Sanderson, who was probably the biggest hero in our neighborhood because he appeared to be as much of an unrepentant addict as anybody had ever seen on a major league team) they became the "Big Bad Bruins". They were a perennial NHL powerhouse, two-time Stanley Cup champions, and local gods. They fought, swaggered, drank hard (except for Orr, it seemed), and ignited a hockey frenzy in Boston. Whereas before the town had been a hockey town, it was now an insane hockey town. Every kid between the ages of 2 and 20 owned skates. Municipally-owned ice rinks were booked 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. TWO expansion teams (The AHL Boston Braves; and the upstart World Hockey Association's New England Whalers, who raided the Bruins for much of their roster) came to life, giving those who couldn't get in to see the Bruins another place to spend those hockey dollars burning a hole in their pockets. And both of them did brisk business, too.
We were like any other group of white kids in Boston. We strapped on the skates and played hockey. When it was cold enough, we skated on the Neponset River. The river was free, so that was our first choice. When the river wasn't frozen, and we could afford it, we booked ice time at one of the rinks. This was almost always done in conjunction with kids from some other neighborhood nearby. We'd pool money, rent the rink, and have at it neighborhood versus neighborhood.
The difference between our neighborhood and the other neighborhoods was that we were usually completely blasted on some substance or other when we hit the ice.
(The other guys might have been, too. I didn't take any surveys.)
Here's the thing: All of the rinks, as I said, were booked solid. The reasonable ice times were taken mostly by organized leagues - school teams, pee-wees, and such. When a ragtag group of neighborhood kids like us (that is, a street gang) wanted to rent ice, the only times left were in the wee hours of the morning. So, when we got the ice, we skated at 1am, 2am, or 3am, and were thankful, too.
Here's the other thing: Drugs were not seen as anything weird or unusual in our neighborhood. By us, I mean. Our parents were your usual good folks who didn't condone their kids ingesting illegal substances. However, we thought absolutely nothing of it. So, in order to stay up through the games, we'd often take stuff that would wire us. Sometimes, some of the guys took black beauties, which were amphetamines. Other times, we would all do some street "mescaline", which wasn't really mescaline, but PCP (an animal tranquilizer) laced with speed. And, as noted, we sometimes played on acid.
As you might imagine, playing hockey on acid is a strange trip. Acid (LSD) was usually seen as an introspective sort of drug. It was something many folks took to explore their inner consciousness. The usual acid-taking setting might have been a comfortable pad with happening music and all-around good vibes. Other times, we took it before a concert. However, we were quite adaptable. Just because we'd be sliding around on ice, being bashed at by guys carrying big sticks, being slammed into the boards, and possibly getting a big hunk of hard rubber flying into our faces at 100-mph was no reason not to enjoy the colors, man.
Watching a slap shot come off of your teammate's stick while on acid was definitely something intriguing. As it flew towards the goal, you saw the trail it left in the air - or, you imagined you saw it, anyway. The lights reflecting off of the ice surface were dazzling and beautiful. And when you checked someone - or were checked BY someone - you wondered if you might have your substance pass right through theirs. The contact didn't hurt in the least and, in fact, just made you feel that much more alive.
We won, we lost, we didn't care.
If you've ever seen the movie Slap Shot, then you might have an idea of how our games went. Those of us sharing ice time (as well as windowpane) were more-or-less The Hanson Brothers, except there were 9 or 10 of us. I say this not because we played only for the fights, but because we were completely innocent of anything other than pure enjoyment of the moment. If that moment included a fight or two, so be it. In any case, the games certainly weren't artistic gems.
And that's about it. As many of those Bruins retired, the team got worse, and we grew up. I don't expect to ever again see as hockey-mad a time in Boston as the 1970's. And to expect such a time to coincide with a time when drug usage was at such a peak is asking for a huge longshot, so that's why I felt this snapshot of that time in my life might be worth viewing. Such a confluence of events is very unlikely to occur again, so the history is worth noting, I think.
(Disclaimer: Luckily enough, we suffered no casualties, either on the ice or in the drug war. None of us ever did drug-related time, nor did any of us die or become irreparably impaired mentally - unless I am and nobody is telling me. Your mileage, and that of others, may vary greatly. By no means would I dismiss the pain of those who weren't as lucky or as blessed.)
Soon, with more better stuff.
Take that whatever way you wish.