Watching the New York Rangers lose in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens last night brought back memories of my own travails on ice, way back in the 1950s.
As a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the closest I came to ice skating was negotiating the frozen pavement in front of P.S. 67 on a cold winter’s morning. Indeed, I had no knowledge at all of ice hockey at that time, nor of the New York Rangers. It wasn’t until our family migrated across the Hudson River to faraway New Jersey that I first spied a hockey rink, and, even then, I really didn’t know (or care) what it was.
Four blocks up the street from the rental house we lived in was Memorial Field, a large athletic complex of baseball diamonds, horseshoe pits, tennis and basketball courts, and, yes, way back in the woods, an ice skating pond. Actually, there were two ponds: one was reserved for figure skating; the other for ice hockey. I spent the first four or five winters on the former, mostly shuffling along the frozen surface in street shoes, trying my damnedest not to fall, while chasing after the unattainable: girls. I didn’t set foot—or should I say skate—on the latter’s icy surface until I was about fifteen, and, even then, not because I wanted to. It was all because of my father.
My first (and only) pair of ice skates were not quite what I had hoped for. What I wanted were figure skates, those sleek, high top shoes with the delicate, graceful blades that handsome movie stars glided along on in pursuit of Sonja Henie (look her up). What I got were these brown, stumpy boots with sawed-off, curtain rods with a flattened end attached to their bottoms—hockey skates—that my dad had picked up at a second-hand shop. Ugh.
“But Dad,” I protested. “These aren’t ice skates. These are . . . well . . . I don’t even know what they are! I need figure skates.” My protests fell on deaf ears. “You don’t need figure skates. They’re for girls. These are hockey skates,” he replied. “That’s what boys want. Trust me. You’ll love ’em.” (I did, but I didn’t.)
I was crushed. But I was also a pragmatist. So what if they weren’t like those skates worn by Dick Button? It didn’t matter. I could pretend. And that’s about all I could do was pretend, because the skates were two sizes too big, and I certainly couldn’t skate on them—unless you called sliding along the ice on the insides of your ankles skating. But now, instead of slipping across the ice in pursuit of the aforementioned females in street shoes, I could “skate” after them. The end result, however, was the same. I never caught them.
Eventually, I migrated from the figure skating pond to the hockey pond, where I experienced a similar amount of frustration. The stick was too long, the puck was too heavy, and I was way too small. But, although I was never able to actually play hockey, I did develop a love for the sport—or, more specifically, for the New York Rangers. I have been a diehard fan ever since I was eighteen, which was when I made my first trip to the old Madison Square Garden to watch the “Broadway Blues.” Ever since that day, I have followed the mostly unsuccessful efforts of my team with a devotion bordering on fanaticism.
Oh, the Rangers lost that night, too. But it didn’t matter. You see, that was also the first time I ever had my first . . . but that’s a story for another day.