Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Acid Hockey

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.


FHB said...

Love that friggin' movie. Sounds like you had a great time. Those were the days.

John-Michael said...

Without doubt, your collected store of sensations and experiences add a flavor to what we all have come to expect and find in your never-disappointing richness and depth of realism. I am not only grateful for who you are even-now becoming ... but also for your survival, to become that impressive Person. I appreciate and do love you, SulDog Friend.

Shrinky said...

"..no reason not to enjoy the colors, man."


Reminds me of some shades from my own oft mis-spent youth (shhhh, don't tell).

Buck said...

Excellent. I only wish I could have grown up in a hockey town, but I came to the sport late in life (and I'm over-compensating just a lil bit because of it). Still, better late than never!

Had I grown up in Detroit I would have been around ten or so when Gordie Howe won the last of his Stanley Cups with the Wings in the mid-50s. So... Howe most likely would have replaced Mantle as my boyhood hero (no Sox, sorry!).

Great post... and I liked the acid parts, as well. As you said (in so many words), you guys were fortunate to get through the experience(s) intact. Or reasonably so, anyway. Couldn't let that get by without a comment, LOL!

SandraRee said...

Black beauties, PCP...I guess this little ole town wasn't the only town that stayed wasted in the
70's. I hung out with the preppies and the long haired smokers/band dudes, and to be honest...the preppies were worse. Nope, none of us died or become irreparably impaired mentally either. A couple of us did pretty well. Miss Georgia, runner up Miss America, soap star, semi famous model in Italy, a couple of really successful businesses... and the list goes on.

Great story Sul.

Anonymous said...

There are times when I wonder how you made it to your adulthood...

This would be one of them...

Thim :)

Cath said...

I'm with Thimbelle. How did you manage to come through relatively unscathed?

Great post of great memories. I love how you write on these subjects and acknowledge that not everyone is a psycho because of using illegal substances, but also having the sensitivity to put in a disclaimer, which acknowledges the other side of the coin - that it is down to luck of the draw. It's a bit of a russian roulette is it not? (to pop a pill.) And so better refrained from.
But this does not change the fact that some people had some awesome experiences that cannot be replicated. I was not one of those, but I enjoy reading yours Jim.

Well written again mate.

Kevin Smith said...

It reminded me of the street hockey games of my youth. I remember leading the league (and breaking the league record each season) in penalty minutes in three of my last four seasons as a defenseman.

Gotta admit, I modeled my play after that of the Hansens. God, that was a blast.

Suldog said...

FHB - (The National Anthem is playing as Steve Hanson stands at center ice, blood running down his face. The referee is telling him that he'll throw him out of the game if he sees so much as one minor infraction.)

Hanson: "I'm listening to the f***ing song!"

Great movie.

Suldog said...

John-Michael - I'm always impressed that I survived my youth. I figure God has something for me to do, but I'm not sure what. I guess I'll just do it when the time comes.

Shrinky - Your secret is safe with me.

Buck - Hey, did you hear about Shrinky? I wasn't supposed to tell anyone, but she did dr... Oops! There she is! Shhhhh!

Sandra Ree - See, I expect that there are many folks like me (or you) who did stuff they were warned against, but who came out of it OK. Most folks do. As I said, I would never discount the pain of those who didn't, but much of my own political philosophy is predicated on the fact that I survived what the government told me I never would.

Thim - See all of the above, I guess. If somebody had plotted out a map of my life at birth, and told me to do exactly what I ended up doing, I'd have had to tell them, at some point, that I wasn't crazy enough to do that shit. Sometimes, when you live stuff, it doesn't seem as crazy as it truly was.

CC - I refer you to the previous answer. That's what the PM says when he doesn't feel like going through it again, right? Why not me?

Kevin - Yeah, we played a whole bunch of street hockey, too. Strangely enough, I recall those games as being drug-free. Same with baseball, football, and almost everything else we played. The only sporting times I recall being utterly wasted were on ice, until I was much older. I played a few softball games coked to the gills, but that's another story...

Neponset River Bridge Dig said...

This is a great post. As a kid grwoing up in a Boston neighborhood myself, I idloized Booby Orr and the others from that team. I grew up in West Roxbury and had the pleasure of being beat on by Knuckles Nilan on the ice rink.

But playing Hocket while tripping? even I never did that, it would effect my game too much and I couldn't have that.

Neponset River Bridge Dig said...

BTW, I happen to be lucky enough to have saved some of my old hockey cards from the late 60's and early seventies. I have many bruins players which I will never part with,unless someone were to offer me a deal I could not refuse.

Hilary said...

Finally a sports post I can relate to! I LOVED hockey in that era. I was a Montrealer who had no interest in the Habs. My friend and I wore Bruins' shirts ..26 - Don Awry for her, and 19 - John McKenzie for me. What can I say? I thought he was cute in an impish sort of way. In retrospect, we kind of loved the cute players far more than the game itself, or I'd still be a big fan. But you've recaptured that exact time for me perfectly, and I thank you for that.

I too, am glad you made it through your drug-doing days without ill-effect.

Wonderful post, all around.

Michelle H. said...

Ah, a great post. It almost makes me forget how the Penguins lost the Stanley Cup to the Redwings this year and half the team got traded in free agency.


Ahem. I would have loved to scalp tickets for your games. Of course I was born in '75. But I would have still been hustling my diaper off for those acid players.

Ali P said...

I almost had an interest in hockey this year because the Habs were in the running to ply for the Stanley cup. Here in the Montreal-ish area it was Habs Fever big time and hard not to catch a little.
PS: some one I know used to go to his fencing classes on acid. Noone could touch him. LOL

Jeni said...

I'm pretty far removed from ever being a rabid hockey fan -although I do like the sport, not playing it though, as I never was that shiny at ice skating to even think about trying to play it with other kids around here. But I realized while reading your post, that as uneducated as I may be about players, Bobby Orr is probably the only name I recognize easily when people discuss hockey. Well, there is that "Mario" guy too who plays for Pittsburgh -or did -not even sure if he's still around and for the life of me, I can't think of his last name now either. Yeah, you can tell I really follow sports, can't you?

Janet said...

Being a southerner, I never really learned to skate very well. OK, fine, at all. The Municipal Auditorium iced the floor for a few weeks in winter, but we only got to try it a couple of times.
And I was very insulated in high school. By the time I got to college in 1980, cocaine was the drug of choice, but way out of my price range, so my drug of choice was my good friend Jack Daniels. Which I drank straight out of the bottle (that way I could be sure no one was spiking it for me, ala MadEye Moody). I've always loved watching hockey though. The idea of guys packing 87 gazillion pounds of pads sailing with such grace over ice is music to me.