Saturday, March 27, 2010

King Leary: Of Hot Water & Ice

"To keep a boy out of hot water, put him on ice."
It's a story as old as the Canadian shield and Paul Quarrington knew how tell it. To keep a boy out of hot water, put him on ice. Hockey saved me, no doubt, from a life of rack and ruin. I was already tough enough to handle, and in the absence of conscription, the rink gave me discipline and provided the role models I yearned for but didn't know it. My coaches were the kind that would get up for practice at six in the morning or give up a long weekend to drive a bunch of greasy rugrats to Portland or over to Saanich on Vancouver Island for a tournament. I learned from those men about the meaning of commitment and of how a game like hockey can provide life with a purpose. Give a kid some skates, keep him out of trouble.

Percival Leary, the main character of Quarrington's 1987 novel King Leary, is a mook of a man, an aging superstar of the ice. His voice is a cross between Howie Meeker and Charlie Farquharson with more than a pinch of Stompin' Tom's lyricism thrown in for sweetener. Poor Leary gets tossed into a reform school run by a bunch of monks for setting a house on fire with a bag of dog shit, and learns how to master the great game with such secret weapons as the "whirlygig."

I spent my sixteenth birthday in jail after two other scoundrels and I were caught sending everything from pizzas to plumbers to a little old lady's home. We were later charged with extortion when we told her if she left a bag of money at the end of her street the incessant barrage of deliveries would finally be annulled. Apart from dear mum, who else came to my aid in my darkest hour of need? My Midget A hockey coach, a former NHL right winger. He wrote me a glowing letter of recommendation that convinced the judge I must be a decent mook if I could muster a hockey defense. It worked - I got pulled out of hot water and was back on the ice within days.

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