I met Mike and Marleen at Matchbox during Monday night’s pregame. I had a business dinner to attend and couldn’t spend the evening inside the rink in Chinatown with my two favorite puckheads, who’d flown in from Portland, Maine, that afternoon. They’d arrived to take in this week’s hockey dates Monday and Wednesday nights at Verizon Center, to “forge a fresh bond” with their heroes in red early in the new season. They’re retired; they can do these things.
It had been almost a year since I’d seen my puck chums, and so Monday evening, even in its pregame brevity, was going to be special for us. And what promised to be a warm reunion in Chinatown accrued a peculiar air of intriguing mystery, as Michael left me voicemail earlier in the day alluding to some “surprise gift” he was eager to present me that evening. There was a distinct tone of mischief in my friend’s voicemail voice.
I was barely seated in our Matchbox booth before Michael began weaving, wide-eyed, voice raised, his narrative, and placing a well-taped-up, small brown shipping box between us in the center of our table. The box, I quickly realized, contained my gift. Michael had a story to tell about it before giving it to me.
It was a tale birthed just that morning. Early Monday morning, just a couple of hours before boarding his D.C.-bound plane, my friend Michael went to his neighborhood pharmacy in Portland to get a routine prescription filled. In their New England retirement Mike and Marleen are ever encountering neighbors, contractors, store clerks, and especially bartenders all bearing their own distinct and robust allegiance to hockey. They revel in learning of these strangers’ puck passions, and I revel in their sharing the accounts with me over the phone, usually between periods. Our great friendship was forged rather accidentally at Verizon Center more than 10 years ago, and so I think the three of us have a special radar for finding . . . others like us.
And so it should come as no surprise that at Portland, Maine’s, Apothecary by Design pharmacist Greg — pharmacist on duty Monday morning — would have his own proud puck allegiance. Michael ever showcases his allegiance: his uniform de rigueur for morning errands in all seasons about coastal Maine, a Capitals’ baseball cap, announces his commission. Greg, Michael quickly learned, was a Portland Pirates’ fan — of the vintage variety. The Pirates of course were affiliated with the Capitals not all that long ago; how couldn’t these two puckheads strike up a warm a.m. chat about the world’s coolest sport?
Michael, however, halted the banter in an instant, as his gaze fixed upon a bobbing figurine resting on a shelf within Greg’s pharmacy counter. Michael recognized the Pirates’ colors on the icon, and the nickname emblazoned on its base: ‘Killer.’ Phramacist Greg was a big Kevin ‘Killer’ Kaminski fan, and remains one to this day. The Killer bobblehead was perhaps his way of forewarning irritable and impatient customers. The bobblehead was as well his token of allegiance for his customers to admire. It wasn’t for sale, of course.
Killer was among the very first subjects I interviewed in the formative days of this blog. At 17 I thought of him as a hockey hero; today I call him a friend.
My great friend from Maine knew what he had to do next.
“Name your price,” Michael said, wide-eyed, with vigor, pointing at the Pirate-sweatered bobblehead. “I’ve a friend in Washington who needs that. I am not leaving your store without it.”
In hindsight, it seems perfectly appropriate — happening upon a Kevin ‘Killer’ Kaminski bobblehead displayed as token of Old Time Hockey affection by a hockey-playing pharmacist in his Portland, Maine, apothecary. After all, no small number of New England pharmacists, you have to imagine, had their businesses bettered in the 1990s by Killer’s bruising style of play. Particularly with the Pirates.
I’m reasonably sure pharmacist Greg had never encountered Michael’s like. Michael is a mercenary in pursuit of his puck passion directed his friends’ way — he possesses his own Killer resolve in this regard. When he said name your price, he meant just that. He’d have happily forked over a C note Monday morning in this Portland apothecary just to walk out of it with what he believed would be viewed by his buddy back in D.C. as a keepsake treasure in his hockey home. I am positive that in that moment of resolve Michael — a barterer who would not be beaten — wanted nothing more in life than to board his noon flight with a Killer bobblehead as carry-on. And to present it to me at happy hour, at our reunion.
This tale has a New England charm ending to it, as you might imagine. Pharmacist Greg would accept no money for the bobblehead.
“If it would bring that much joy to your buddy back home, just take it,” he told Michael.
I’ve written it before and I have fresh occasion to write it again: there are no friends in this world quite like hockey friends. The measure of an amazing friend, I think, can be verified in an instance of such gift-giving — when the giving joy for the giver outsizes the considerable delight of the recipient. This would also explain the elaborate protective packaging Michael shrouded the Killer bobblehead in. There was packing popcorn enough in this small shipping box to secure an egg for a flight to Saskatchewan and back. Matchbox may never have known a more dramatic gift exchange than on Monday, and Michael took much delight in deliberately plucking out all the popcorn to liberate the Killer within.
Finally Killer’s miniature head bobbed back and forth between us as Mike and Marleen and I sipped our reunion beer Monday night before my friends’ reunion with their favorite team (also Killer’s favorite team), and in that moment I had a powerfully fresh reminder of the ongoing, life-enriching associations brought about by blogging about hockey in my hometown.
I sent Killer a text from Matchbox to inform him of the good fun we were having with his likeness, and did he ever get a kick out of that. ‘Buy Mike a beer for me,’ he shot back. I’ll send him another text now that I think about it. There’s this big-hockey-hearted pharmacist in Maine who’s missing his hero’s memorabilia. I’m pretty confident Killer will fix that fast.