Saturday, December 05, 2009

A tale of two fandoms

Over at Pensburgh, a Pittsburgh Penguins fan blog, I recently started a series of cocktail recipes/commentaries that highlight individual players' notable achievements, from screaming "Aw, fuck!" really loudly on live TV to cleaning some jerk's clock in a fight to a five-point game with a hat trick. Alcohol is about the only creative medium in which I can make something worth sharing. That or furniture.

I named one the Lucky 13 after Bill Guerin for scoring a game-tying goal with less than a second to spare. I liked it almost as much as I like seeing him in his undershirt. I thought the combination of apple cider, pomegranate liqueur, and bourbon would be good for Thanksgiving dinner, and suggested it to my brother when he visited.

"So why 'Lucky 13'?" my brother asked.
"She named it after the hockey player she is going to leave me for," L'Ailee joked.
"That is so wrong," I said. "I mean, you're the one who introduced me to hockey. I wouldn't even know who or what a Bill Guerin was if it weren't for you. So it would be really cruel if I ran off with a hockey player. Anyway, you know I'm leaving you for Tony Stewart."
"You bisexual women are all the same!" she tried to fake-sob. (She has a mean-spirited bitch concerned lesbian friend who's been trying to convince her that I'm going to run off with an attractive pizza boy for the past few years.)

My brother and sister-in-law had many questions after that. L'Ailee and I get a lot of questions from a lot of people, in real life and online. "Why do you like the Penguins if a Red Wings fan got you into hockey?" "How did you let her become a Penguins fan?" "How did a Russian become a NASCAR fan?" "Why do you like Kevin Harvick?" "You're from Florida--why would you like hockey?" And, of course, the ever-irritating, "Be honest--are you *really* into it, or are you just trying to please her?" So, I decided to answer some of them here, and now I have a little time. I'm putting several bits and pieces that I hinted at before together.

I was quite literally born into racing fandom--my mother was 8 months pregnant with me when my father got into a fiery wreck on a dirt track (he was okay, thank the Gods), and went into labor almost instantly. Daddy always liked to watch racing with me when it was on TV. We went to the Daytona races every year, too. He venerated Richard Petty and taught me to do the same. I yearned to be the first woman to win the Daytona 500. My father encouraged me, but he died when I was seven and the encouragement went with him. I feel so connected to my father and paternal grandfather whenever I watch--well, maybe not so much when I start playing NASCAR-edition Cyanide with my friends, but still. As I mentioned in my last post, it is also one of the few "safe topics" I have for some of my living relatives.

I always love the middle of February, because it contains both Valentine's Day and the Daytona 500. My great-uncle had asked me whether I wanted to go to the 500 with him. He said I could bring a guest. Of course I said, "Hell yes!", though there was no available guest in sight. L'Ailee and I still lived apart in February 2004, her in NYC and me in Orlando, though we were engaged. She surprised me days before the race by telling me she'd bought a plane ticket and was coming down for Valentine's weekend. What do I do, what *do* I do? Well, I took a shot and asked her whether she'd like to go to the race, fully prepared for her to tell me "no" and then some. Much to my surprise, she said "yes"! "You love that race so much," she said. "Since we are going to be married, I think I need to try to understand why you love it." Um, okay, sounds good.

I have also mentioned that she's shaved her head almost continuously since our senior year of high school. She was trying to let her hair grow for our wedding, but it was still very, very short. People stared at her. When the second kind older woman started waxing sympathetic under the assumption that L'Ailee was brave-facing her way through chemotherapy, she decided she really needed a cap. The number 29 one went with her gray T-shirt and black shorts. "Is this a good driver?" L'Ailee asked. I had to think a second--oh, it was Kevin Harvick! "Yeah, Harvick's decent. He took over Dale Earnhardt's car after he died and did a really good job of it." L'Ailee bought the cap and kept an eye on the car that matched her outfit during the race. Harvick does well at Daytona.

I have loved Tony Stewart since his rookie year in Sprint Cup (1997). His driving style is exciting without being overly stupid, he can slice his way from the back to the front like a chainsaw through butter, and he's ridiculously easy to read. I had a crush on him before I even really knew what he looked like. He does well at Daytona too, but he's never quite sealed the deal at the 500. It's so strange to me that he and his red #14 merchandise are really popular now. At the time, wearing his orange #20 gear required the ability to debate and handle trash talk--I used to joke that my having been part of a champion high school debate team prepared me to be a Tony Stewart fan.

Our section was full of Dale Earnhardt, Jr's number 8 red T-shirts. Stewart came so, so painfully close to winning. Junior came up behind him in second. (Remember when that was a threat, NASCAR fans?) I started cheering loudly for Stewart. L'Ailee noticed that I was alone, and started cheering for Stewart herself just to make me feel less lonely. Junior won it. In the parking lot, L'Ailee told me, "Don't be sad. If Tony Stewart had won, all of these Junior fans would have torn him apart after the race." Wow, she'd picked up the subtle nuances of the sport *fast*!

From there on in, she was hooked. She learned NASCAR's point system quickly, even started totaling points for the drivers we liked herself on a legal pad during the race. She easily understood why short track racing is different from superspeedway racing. She asked me the differences between "clean air" and "dirty air", or "tight" and "loose" race cars. She decided that Kevin Harvick really was a good driver. She likes her drivers aggressive--Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya are also favorites of hers. L'Ailee also likes that Ryan Newman has a college degree, but he doesn't have enough of a killer instinct for her taste.

L'Ailee grew up in a very different part of the world than I did, in Eastern Siberia. Hockey was simply what everyone watched and followed. I will never forget her quietly explaining that the Miracle on Ice, a/k/a the US team defeating the superior-on-paper Russian team in the 1980 Olympics, wasn't so miraculous for her. Being a very small, fast, and flexible girl, she was expected to participate in gymnastics year round and to figure skate during the long winter. She did both. But in that tiny girl body beat the heart of a hockey defenseman. Her uncle sawed off a hockey stick for her, and she went out on her figure skates to kick boys' and a few bigger girls' asses.

L'Ailee followed NHL hockey shortly after emigrating to the US in her teens, though she didn't really have a favorite team ("The Rangers, I suppose. I was in New York."). She preferred to play with her big male friends during the winter, and she was overjoyed to discover field hockey in high school, where a fast little girl could kick ass on the grass. Then the Detroit Red Wings took on some amazing Russian players. L'Ailee and her best friend A. became extremely interested in the Russian Five, and by extension, the Red Wings and the NHL. Though the Red Wings are now dominated by Swedish players, L'Ailee and A. still love Pavel Datsyuk, their Russian center. They wear their Datsyuk jerseys proudly.

I moved to NYC in the autumn of 2004. Hockey wasn't an issue then, because of the lockout. However, the NHL was a going concern again in the 2005-2006 season. Since she'd learned my sport and enjoyed it, she expected me to give hockey a chance. I couldn't get into it. As a proud Florida Cracker, I thought of hockey as something only "transplants" watched. I turned up my nose at it--it seemed to go along with Northerners telling me I talked too slow and bitching about how we had no culture. But as L'Ailee pointed out, I was a transplant now, in a place where there were actual winters.

Sometimes L'Ailee could guilt me into staying on the couch with her and watching a period. It helped that she liked to deep-kiss me to celebrate a Wings goal. Also, she felt like "celebrating" when the Wings won, especially if it was a particularly decisive or hard-won game, so I damn sure wanted to stick around for that. She patiently explained terms like "icing" and "offsides" to me. One day in 2006, I noticed another team, when she was watching a non-Wings game just for the hell of it. They wore these jerseys with hockey playing penguins on them. I liked that--I love black and white animals. "The Pittsburgh Penguins," L'Ailee said. "They look tough, don't they?"
There was this shorter, stockier player moving really fast. He was keeping the puck away from the Penguins' opponents. The camera zoomed in on his face. "Wow, he's young," I said.
"Still eighteen, I think. That is Sidney Crosby."
I have a damn near photographic memory, and that name rang a bell. "I've seen that name!"
"Then you know how good he is supposed to be." She shrugged. "Half of it might be true." Coming from her, that is high praise for a player who is neither a Red Wing nor a Russian. Speaking of which, Crosby changed places with a taller, lankier kid who was almost as fast and just as good at bedeviling his opponents. "Evgeni Malkin. He is also young, and he's Russian. Very good player." I found myself liking their energy and teamwork. The minutes slipped away, and we both realized I'd watched almost an entire hockey game without complaining. Later, I looked up the Penguins online. I liked what I saw. As with Tony Stewart, I also liked how several of the Penguins, especially Crosby, were as easy to read as the Cat in the Hat. Since Crosby was so young, I figured I'd get in on the ground floor of something good, like L'Ailee with Kyle Busch. I didn't realize that the ground floor had started before his voice first cracked.

We didn't realize quite a few things, like how quickly gifted young players such as Crosby, Malkin, and their goofy goalie Marc-Andre Fleury would propel the team from the Least of the East to the Stanley Cup. We didn't know that our teams would face each other in the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row and become rivals. We didn't know that we'd snipe at each other over it, to the point where I had to say last year, "Look, it's just a game. We can't let it get to us like this." (We've decided that we're going to kiss each other on every goal no matter what the next time the Penguins and the Red Wings play.) I certainly didn't think I'd ever like this team enough to buy jerseys, let alone plan a trip that revolves around watching our teams play live at home. No, what L'Ailee knew at the time was that I finally took an interest in her sport and understood the need for her to have the NHL Center Ice cable package. She used to pay for it out of her own checking account. We now pay for it out of the shared "household" account.

L'Ailee has divided loyalties and a few pieces of Harvick, Busch, and Montoya merchandise, which she'll wear together in different combinations. I have a blue Crosby jersey, a white Crosby jersey, a Crosby jersey-styled T-shirt, Penguins earrings, and a few signs and stickers. I want a Guerin T-shirt. We have been told that if we're real fans, we'll watch when the other one isn't watching. This has held true. NASCAR Sprint Cup (top tier) races were delayed until Monday twice due to rain. L'Ailee usually has Mondays off. She watched and texted me updates throughout both races, as well as a couple that I missed because I took interior decorating jobs. She's usually exhausted on Friday nights due to a large load of classes at her gym, and I have watched Friday night Penguins games while she slept or kept tabs on her Red Wings.

Sports are never *just* sports. There are so often other connections involved, whether familial or geographic or romantic. No wonder teams and drivers can take such a hold on peoples' minds. For L'Ailee and I, our sports provided us an opportunity to understand each other that much better. We've casually taught each other new things about our lives during commercials--that sawed-off hockey stick that was still too thick for her tiny hands, the car I constructed out of milk crates, duct tape, and bicycle training wheels and "won" several Daytona 500s in as a little girl. We've taught and learned from each other. We've smiled as that knowledge took hold in the other. When she pounded a couch cushion because Kyle Busch was out of the Chase for the Championship, when I cussed because the Penguins were losing their entire defense to injuries, we knew. We weren't just "giving it a chance" to please each other anymore. There was no more "her thing" and "my thing." They were both our things, to enjoy together.

Links, in case you can stand to read any more:

Remember that same-sex marriage vote in the New York State Senate? Queens senator Hiram Monserrate voted "no." He has just now been sentenced to three years' probation for domestic violence against his girlfriend. LGBT New Yorkers, when you're hungry for a shining role model to teach you what real morality's all about...

Same-sex marriage debate flow chart, or, why I get burned the fuck out.

New study: Monkeys can recognize their friends in photographs.

Part of the fun of getting older is that Gen Xers can wring our hands over a new generation's entertainment. For instance, in this piece about how to talk to teenage girls about New Moon, the Twilight saga, and Bella. It's not just concern-trolling, though--there are some good points.

The next right-wing media mogul

Since the decade is winding up (thank the Gods!), there are lots of "best/worst of the decade" lists coming. This list of embarrassing political moments will make you laugh and cringe.

Don't you wish Sinead O'Connor had a new CD or something coming out? Well, I do. Until then, I have to content myself with an awesome new remix of "This Is to Mother You." Buy it, and you're making a small donation to help girls caught up in sex trafficking. Mary J. Blige and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are also involved, so you know it's good.


bluzdude said...

Wow. I direct a NASCAR fanatic to one of my posts and the first thing it does is drop an F-bomb on NASCAR.

Please accept my lavish apologies.


CrackerLilo said...

No problem; it really was an epic post otherwise. I cried and squealed when the Pens won the Cup.

Barbara aka Layla said...

I love reading your posts. This was very interesting to hear how you and L'Ailee discovered and learned to love each other's sports :)

I checked out your links....Philip Anschutz is a name I recognize! I can't remember the details but he offered to fund a project that my boss was working on and my boss refused the money because of his reputation. This was about 6 or 7 years ago.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Hey thanks for the heads-up on Anschutz! I am twittering the link!

alan said...

Somehow I think watching hockey or NASCAR around you guys would be awfully fun...

There's going to be a new sound coming out of Charlotte this year though...keep your ears open!