The vulcanized rubber puck used in ice hockey games weighs six ounces, is one inch thick, and three inches in diameter. Players typically slap it around the rink anywhere from 60 to 90 mph. The fastest speed on record was achieved by Bobby Hull, who cracked a puck at 119 mph. A top player can earn $14 million a year. A hockey puck itself costs about a dollar. Authentic game-used pucks have been resold by teams for up to $100. One hockey game will commonly see 20 or more pucks swapped out during an hour of play. And the pucks are frozen before being used. That makes them slide better on the ice.
Everybody watches that puck during the game. Its location and change of directions defines who wins, who loses, and who takes home $14 million. But nobody really cares about that battered, scarred puck one minute after the game. That’s when all the attention turns to Mr. $14 million and whatever celebration party he’s headed to. The arena cleanup crew stays behind, working far into the night, without an audience.
It is the same with baseballs. They cost the team almost $20 each and some teams in the professional circuit have used upwards of 100 balls per game. Used ones get sent to practice fields or get recycled into new balls. Sometimes they go home with a fan lucky enough to catch one hit into the stands. The top recorded speed for a pitched ball has topped 106 mph only two or three times. A ball well hit by the batter may reach 94 mph. Top players have cracked $30 million in annual salaries.
As with hockey pucks, fans keep their eyes on the ball, at least during the game. Controlling its direction and presence at critical locations at critical moments is why some players cash $30 million checks from the team owners. But no one much cares what happens to the baseballs that defined success during the game once the final out is called.
And yadda yadda with golf, basketball, football, polo, tennis, and tiddly winks. Once the excitement of the games is over, we lose interest in the hockey puck. It was fun to see it get slapped around but what’s for supper?
Last Sunday evening, Melanie and I were having our usual after-supper “date,” watching favorite old TV shows. The stroke makes it difficult for me to provide any entertainment for us outside our home, but I look forward to this time with her each evening. We were watching an episode of an old BBC series, Rumpole of the Bailey. Leo McKern plays a curmudgeonly English barrister who wins all his arguments except those with his wife, Hilda (“She who must be obeyed”). We had just caught site of Rumpole about to start a new case when the screen went dark.
Irma had finally arrived, announcing herself with the predicted power outage. She was Interrupting Rumpole Mid-Adventure.
The weather all day had been mild and even sunny. Now the winds were rapidly increasing. Weather forecasters had been reporting on her progress, with a predicted track that slowly crept away from Florida’s Atlantic coast closer and closer to us. In the 48 hours previous this predicted track even passed by us and out over the Gulf of Mexico. But then the track was moved back closer to us. It went right across Tampa Bay. Miami would escape a direct hit. Not Tampa. The puck had been slapped first one way, then another. Irritating Random Malevolence Arrived.
I went to bed early. There was nothing else to do. In the middle of the night when I awoke (and with no power I had no clock to tell me the time) I heard the worst of the wind gusts. I thought this must be like what Jesus heard when his disciples awakened him from his nap on the boat. Impassive Reclining Master, Awake!
Wind gusts continued until dawn and through most of Monday as Irma moved north. I assume you know more about that than I since we lost our usual news sources on TV. We also lost a handful of roof tiles and a schefflera plant. With landfall winds of 185 mph, Irma is one of the worst hurricanes Florida has seen. I consider that we got off easy.
For the past two years plus I have invested what strength I still have each day in front of my computer screen. Now I picked a chair by the living room window where I could see a (battery run) clock. Outside, two houses away, a neighbor’s tree had fallen across the street and onto a car. I was glad I’d had a few years to practice centering prayer as a way to use the time sitting still. I also dozed off quite a bit!
We got through Monday on cold soup and ice Melanie had stored up. Her cell phone still had a charge and she was able to exchange a few texts with friends. We went to bed at sundown. The biscuit had not reached the basket.
Tuesday, a friend brought a battery recharger to keep the cell phone working. We learned that a good 75% of Lakeland had been left without power. We could only imagine what cities on the Gulf coast were dealing with.
Tuesday was also a long-standing appointment with our dentist. His office had escaped damage, he had power, and the office had air conditioning. We went so they could Internally Rehabilitate Mandible Activity. About half the stoplights were out on streets along the way. Drivers were slowly, politely, taking their turns getting through the intersections and around downed tree branches. Afterwards, we tried to visit our favorite ice cream stand to get milkshakes (one of the few treats I can still handle) but they were closed.
We live two blocks from a large college campus. In hurricanes past we had noticed our power was never down for more than a few hours. We always thought it was because the city was careful not to leave the students stranded for long. Tuesday night we noticed light on in college buildings we could see. Our house stayed dark. Again we went to bed at sundown. Now we were leaving the windows open. We were feeling the first notes of cooler fall temperatures and they were a relief. I thought about those who had settled Florida in pre-Edison days: no lights, no air conditioning. We were getting a taste of pioneer days. And Melanie noticed she could now see stars in the cloudless night sky. Incredible Reminders, Majestic Astronomy.
We had hoped the lights from the college campus meant we would be next in line for repairs. On Wednesday we could hear the engines of utility trucks with crews working on power lines two blocks the other side of our house.
In my chair by the living room window I decided to try reading a book. Since the stroke my hands and fingers don’t do well holding a book still, or turning pages. I decided to go for something familiar. I picked up a book I had written shortly after that stroke, Thirteen Commandments. As has often happened to me, I couldn’t remember most of what I had written. Even more remarkable, I still agreed with what I had written. Some of it even seemed good! So I spent an afternoon Inwardly Rejuvenating Memory Atrophy.
We had people starting to drop by, checking on us. Two people brought us more ice and Melanie repacked our dead refrigerator. But electric power remained unrejuvenated. Once more, we slept that night as they did during the 19th century, in the dark. And extreme quiet.
By Wednesday, some of our neighbors were abandoning ship until power could be restored in our area. Melanie bagged some remaining perishables from the refrigerator and our church youth minister took them to the church, where there was power and a working refrigerator. A friend of neighbors (who had already left) came by and loaned us a couple of battery powered fans. Even with our windows open, we could not ignore that it was still summertime in Florida. Melanie had it worse, scurrying around trying to take care of me. Several friends were inviting us to stay in their air-conditioned homes as long as we needed.
As we had another not-hot, not-cold supper, she read a message on her cell phone. It said repair crews had just about finished all the “easy” electrical repairs. It warned city residents that if their power was not back on by 10 p.m. that night, it meant they were in one of the difficult areas that needed, not a repair, but a rebuild. And that was expected to take another week, maybe two. One neighbor’s husband was doing 16-hour days with the utility repair crews. She told Melanie how it broke her heart to watch him work those long hours in the sun, restoring power to others, and then have to come home to a dark house himself. And she told us about the tangle of tree branches and wires where we had heard all the utility crews working close by.
We went to sleep in the dark. And, on the remaining charge in her cell phone, Melanie started calling friends to accept the offers of refuge for the next day.
When I woke in the middle of the night, knowing it had to be past 10 p.m., I still could not see the clock whose numbers glow softly in the dark. The whole house was dark. I tried to close my eyes but couldn’t tell that this made any difference. I began to create acronyms in my mind to pass the time. Interminable Repeating Midnight Again.
Next morning Melanie packed dirty laundry and our laptop computers in the van and we went to the home of a sister deacon. She and her husband were going to spend the day with youth from their church, helping clean up yards for church families. Schools were all closed so the available workforce had been given a mission. They made sure our laptops had connected to their WiFi system, and that the air conditioning was working (!) and left us in the house. Melanie started doing laundry. I started recharging my laptop battery.
At midday, we packed up again and returned to our home. I was going to take a shower and then we were going to go to the home of some snowbirds who were still in Maine for the summer, but who had invited us to stay in their winter home during the storm recovery (in a neighborhood that had not lost power).
A word about me taking showers. So far, I have been able to sit safely in a chair in the shower. But when I’m done, I need Melanie’s help getting out. We had no hot water, of course, so I was done quickly. When I turned off the water I could hear voices, visitors, a man and a woman, and Melanie had invited them inside. I could hear her usual friendly, unhurried hostess voice as they talked. And talked and talked. I couldn’t recognize the other voices but heard them all talking about mutual friends.
I sat naked in the shower, dripping dry, not making a sound. “Lord, I could think of better times for You to send more friends to see if we’re okay,” I thought. Usually, I Reject Mysterious Appointments like this. But I decided to just wait patiently and trust that Melanie had not lost her mind trying to be hospitable.
Turns out the visitors were a news team with TV camera from the local cable news channel. They were doing a story on how folks who still had no electric power four days after the hurricane were doing. A friend of ours had tipped them off that we were in that predicament.
When they finally had their story, they left and Melanie rescued me. I got dressed and back in our van. Melanie locked up the house, asked our one remaining neighbor to get our mail, and we took off for our refuge shelter. As we passed utility work crews who have come to help fix the wires, Melanie rolled down her window to shout, “God bless you!” to them.
We were half way to our destination when the puck got one more, surprise whack. Melanie’s cell phone rang. I know, I know. Hang up and drive, yes. But it was our neighbor. She told us power had just been restored on our street. I croaked out, “Hallelujah” as strongly as I could. Melanie turned around and drove us back to our house. After she pulled into our drive, she got out to go open the back door of our house.
A moment after she disappeared inside, I heard the air conditioner motor by the back door roar to life. It was shortly after noon.
Thursday evening we watched the short news story with Melanie on TV. Soon Melanie’s Facebook page was registering requests by her friends for autographs.
If they only knew the rest of the story…
Which I will conclude for now.
Before I lose control and Irritatingly Regurgitate More Acronyms.