Friends, losers, Leafs fans, lend me your ears. First off let me say, forgive the long absence between posts. To apologize, let me misquote John Lennon in a terrible and self-congratulatory way: life is what happens when you are busy making other blogs.
To show you how important you are to me, acknowledging how neglectful I have been, amd knowing that we are beyond a simple and shitty bouquet of flora, I'm going to tell you something that I have shared with very few people.
Right now between the furor of Howard Berger, the Leafs 3 game losing streak and the fact that tomorrow they play the Habs, I think its a perfect story to tell.
Everything you are about to read is true. You can choose to believe me- which is more fun- or you can chose not to- also cool. I mean hey, some people still wear toupees, so...you know, what are you gonna do?
Of course, if there is some sort of recourse or statute-of-limitations on the crimes I am about to admit to, than let me be the first to say that I am making all of this shit up. Right now as I go along.
It concerns the very last time I ever stepped foot inside Maple Leaf Gardens. Just like you, I consider that shit hallowed. I should also tell you that I have walked on actual consecrated ground, and to me, Maple Leaf Gardens feels the same underfoot. Now granted I was never involved in a moshpit at Machu Picchu as I was while seeing Ministry at the Gardens in 1992. And yes, there are less hookers around the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathian than the corner of Church and Jarvis on any given night. And yes unlike the Gardens, the 24 hour breakfast restaurant across the street from the Acropolis doesn't charge for refills. Regardless. Maple Leafs Gardens besides being the Leafs home since the 12th of November 1931, has hosted the Beatles, Elvis, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones (and others on Q107's playlist). In the late 50's, my old man had season Greens. Duran Duran filmed a video there. Ali once fought there. The Who played the very first of their very last concerts there, and to a much less significant way, so did Queensryche.
Within its very walls I saw Rob Ramage wear the C, and Alan Bester in nets. I saw Mats play in a Nordiques jersey, and a game where Tie Domi got 2 goals. And once, I broke up with a girl outside of it instead of being forced to see Glass Tiger in concert. I grew up a couple blocks East, in Cabbagetown. MLG is my hood.
Hello...Earth to World Heritage people?
But the last time? I was there in an officious manner. Through an intricate web of lies that I had fabricated with the aide of a friend on the inside, whom we'll call "Mark", I somehow got the job of official photographer for a group of retired NHL players and Leafs alum taking a tour of Maple Leaf Gardens for the final time. Little did it matter that my knowledge of photography never went beyond the "appropriate" moments, of merriment. This was MLG, and Mark told them I was the next Youseff Karsh.
I was told to arrive at MLG at 6 am (which I did), and as anyone from Toronto can tell you, standing outside at 6 in the morning, in January, particularly on a wind tunnel like that part of Carlton Street, is plain stupid. What's worse was that when they finally did open the doors, (security: a man with a moustache) I was immediately told,that I couldn't bring my Timmy's into the building. So there I was, chugging my scalding coffee and wondering if my fingers were already too frostbitten to take photos, my burnt tongue telling me it didn't even matter.
Then out of nowhere, they started showing up. The oldtimers I was to photograph. I was hoping for Wendel of course, and expecting say, Ian Turnbull, but these old timers were a tad older. They were camera pan through the crowd on Remembrance Day, old. Maybe it was the same overcoats, or ubiquitous glasses, or that they were all the same size, but these guys were all Grandads. These were gentlemen who could've stunt doubled Pierre Burton.
I made them take a step to the right, then to the left, told them to all say "cheese", and took a photo. I would love to tell you who was there. But truthfully out of respect to these great hockey men and because of the douche-baggery I am about to confess to, I feel I shouldn't. Let me tell you this: I was later allowed to listen in on these great men swap stories about fist-fights with Gordie Howe, and how much they really hated Ted Lindsay. One former Leaf defensemen talked of taking a beating from the Hammer. And later, yet another Leaf, this time a Winger, took off his 1966-67 ring, to let me look at it.
At center ice, in a circle like girls at a school dance, the oldies swapped stories and I took photos. Then in the dressing rooms, as they laughed and reminisced, I took photos. Whilst in the hallway talking, I took photos. And it was there that it hit me: the realization that I may never step foot in the Gardens again, certainly not in its current state.
So at some point, while all of us were in the hallway and I began to look at the camera in a way that implied I knew what I was doing and quietly snuck away towards ice level.
Knowing really that it was now or never, my first thought was to get a seat, one of those horrible, tiny little things that I hated sitting on but now coveted like the Ark. But to remove a seat was pointless. I had neither the tools for removal nor the leaden cojones needed to say, "No, no - I came in with this seat."
I ran to the home bench knowing that I had only moments before the collective Security tandem of Mr. Moustache and Film Crew Jacket realized I was no longer on radar. My hand on a stack of Bibles, I jumped the boards. You can think that I only thought of that later but I didn't...I jumped the boards, which was way way harder than I thought. I got to my knees, and with alacrity akin to a panther, began to pry a tile off the floor.*
(*At this point I would like to remind law enforcement types that this is all false.)
I chose the one with the most skate nicks (and that wasn't broken) and with a little help from an issue of Hockey News I had with me, the tile gave way like the Sens in the playoffs. All in one piece, swish. I then went for the tile beside it. You may think I was motivated by greed, I wish I could say I had thought of that (I didn't). The next tile was for my brother. Not to be competitive with him, but he's almost as big a Leafs fan as me. Not quite, but almost.
As the 2nd tile began to give way, and the first tile, hidden inside the Hockey News, I felt pleased with myself, but then suddenly wondered: is this even right to do? Has opportunity blinded my desecration? Did I just scrape Norte Wuz Here on some precious fresco wall?
And then it's almost funny how karma has a way of holding you down and forcibly fucking your face because the 2nd tile, which, up until that point, was gliding like Fred Astaire, suddenly stopped. Instead of moving on to another tile, my fingers getting more and more moist from my fear and hubris, I began to sweet talk it. Quietly. "C'mon baby," I told it, feminizing it in my head. "C'mon..." I said again, rocking it gently. "C'mon babygirl..." I said, getting creepy. "You like that?" I continued, taking it too far.
Then panic came on and I imagined being humiliated in front of men whose names graced the Stanley Cup. And panic riding shotgun is never a good idea. I pulled the tile once more and then again much harder until up it came...except for the final corner, which stayed glued down.
In the end, I stashed the 3/4 tile and the full tile in the Hockey News and jumped back over the boards (not gracefully), making my way back to the Oldtimers, none of whom even realized I was gone.
And now, November 2008, my piece of tile, framed and perfect, hangs on the wall, not 5 feet away from me. I never caught a puck at a game, but feel that my very own piece of MLG is even better. You may say that I stole and I would answer, what's it to you, you goddamn bastard?