A flippant Career by Mike Peters
With one minute remaining in the game, Amherst forward Topher Flanagan scored the empty net goal that cemented their win and the end of our hockey season. I told myself that if I only let in two goals, we would have a chance to win. I was wrong. Shortly afterwards, I found myself next to my teammates, slumped on benches, dejected, silent in our locker room with the faint echoes of ecstatic whoops coming through the walls from the Amherst locker room. Coach Beaney did not have much to say. We were supposed to lose this game and we did. He thanked me and shook my hand first. Despite everything that I had said about our future plans for hockey, at that moment we both realized that we had just been a part of our last game ever.
I met Logan Miller during the first Saturday of our Freshman year at Middlebury. At the groggy end of our first hectic, beer filled college weekend night, we ended up sitting around a makeshift fire and making plans to work out early the next morning. Despite his fanny pack and quirky humor, I knew we were destined to be friends when we met up at the gym that Sunday morning at 8 am. We shared the common bond of being devoted hockey players and the goal of making the school’s ice hockey team. In those days we were both ambitious, driven students and players, committed to the team over anything else.
To the rest of the players on the hockey team, Logan and I were nuisances, but for very different reasons. Everybody besides me had been hand selected to come to Middlebury specifically to play hockey for this team. I was seen as the intruder, extra weight that would not be around for much longer once the season started and official cuts were made. Logan was also having a difficult time fitting in. His fanny pack combined with his militaristic attitude was not well received by the upper classmen who were confused by his eclectic personality. To put it bluntly, Logan Miller was not the typical hockey player. Nobody could deny the fact that we loved the game of hockey more than anything else, so for the first few months we were tolerated.
As I walked out of class in late October, the phone in my pocket started to vibrate and my heart sank. Logan and I had been working out with the hockey team for the last two months and I had managed to add 10 pounds to my skin and bones frame. I had even been playing well in the inter team scrimmages. Yet I knew this call was coming. I looked at the screen and saw the 802 area code which only confirmed my fears. On the other end of the line, Coach Beaney’s voice came up, calm and with gravity, “Pete, why don’t you stop by my office sometime this afternoon.”
Sitting in Beaney’s office, I looked around. Framed newspaper clippings announcing Middlebury’s four straight national championships were appropriate narrations for the pictures of teams that had won it all. I fantasized about being one of those beaming faces, about being on a team, until Coach’s voice snapped me back to reality “There’s no reason for us to drag this out. You exceeded expectations but we just don’t have room for you on the team this year. Thank you for coming out and I hope you try out again next year.” His words washed over me as we stood and shook hands. I had never been cut from a sports team before and I didn’t know how to react.
“Thanks Coach. I’ll see you then,” I weakly replied. I left the office just in time to see my would-be teammates warming up for practice in the hallway the floor below the office. I paused for a second to observe them and think about how I would proceed. For the first time in my recent life, I did not have an obligation to play hockey for three hours of every day. At least I could now go abroad and study in Africa like I always envisioned myself doing. Logan then walked out of the locker room and joined the warm up game of soccer that had evolved in front of my eyes. He scored a nice goal and as his teammates cheered even for their misfit teammate, still wearing his fanny pack, a fire lit in my chest. I was not going to give up my life’s passion this easily: I was going to find a way to play on this team.
Three years later, after barely making it to our first meal of the day before the dining hall closes at 2, its safe to say that Logan and I take ourselves a little less seriously. During the walk back to our house, our conversation started off like so many of ours had before. “I have a great idea.” Logan begins, always following with a pause, waiting to see how long it will be until I inevitably take the bait.
“What is it?” Logan doesn’t need somebody to confirm that his ideas are good; he just needs somebody to hear to them when they materialize into concrete thought and surface briefly before submerging back into his subconscious.
“Let’s start a clothing company.” This idea is no more outlandish or unexpected than any other he has had before.
“Okay.” I thought that as usual, this would be the end of the conversation. As we walked up the stairs of our decrepit house into Logan’s room, I assumed that we would watch South Park until his next great idea arose. The sly smile on Logan’s face told me that this was different. For once, he had gone out of his way to advance an idea from the abstract to something tangible. My eyes turned to the cardboard box he slowly pulled out from under his bed. “Let me show you something. You have to promise not to talk about this to anybody.”
“Okay.” My heart began to race. Did he come up with a more comfortable ski boot? Maybe he designed underwear that reduced chaffing. Between Logan’s signature fanny pack and my utter lack of style, it was hard to imagine us starting any successful fashion company.
“Here it is.” Logan slowly removed a white t-shirt from a box. As he unfolded it, it seemed as though he was showing me a normal pocket t-shirt.
Logan took a deep breath. “The pocket…” Logan always had a flare for the dramatic. “… is upside down.”
While I was underwhelmed at first with the practicality of the design, I immediately recognized the genius behind the simple idea. “I’m in,” I declared, and thus, without much ceremony, became a part of the ambitiously useless clothing line, flippant.
New Year’s Day, 2012 and I am slumped over on the couch of my Maryland home. I have no plans other than to continue watching the B quality programming that is on TV. I had been playing hockey every day with the JV hockey team at school and working out as much as possible. Beaney and I had not talked since our meeting in his office and the team was off to a rather slow start. Logan had been benched the last three games and was feeling frustrated with the team’s lack of commitment. I was starting to lose hope and that all my work would be for nothing. My phone started to vibrate. This time the 802 area code intrigued me. “Hello?”
Again I heard Coach Beaney’s voice. His words carry a certain gravitas even when he says the most mundane of sentences “Pete, its Bill Beaney. How are you?” Before I could answer he was talking again, “Nick Bondurant is on academic probation and is no longer on the team so I’m going to need you to come back up to school as soon as possible. Thanks.” I heard the phone click and just like that, the call that gave me back my hockey life was over. That was the happiest moment of my life to date.
“I have a great idea.” It had been two weeks since the birth of our clothing company, and we already had a website and several pre-orders. Things were going well.
“What is it?”
“Let’s move all our production somewhere that needs it.” Logan had been coming up with ideas left and right recently and it was hard to filter through the good and the bad.
“Where are you thinking?”
“Somewhere that needs us. Somewhere where we could really do some good with our presence.” I paused for a moment. I knew that this time he was testing me to see if I was on the same page.
It started out as innocent as that, but as the year went on, we became more and more serious about moving our growing business to the Motor City. The more opposition and ridicule we got from people we told, the more it strengthened our resolve to move to Detroit after graduating from college. Logan had always been intent on having no concrete plans after graduation. Flippant was just serious enough for me to get on board with the joke and commit to moving my life to Detroit.
By February of my Sophomore year, I was starting to get the hang of being a Middlebury ice hockey player. Early morning goalie sessions supplemented practice every day. Despite my fear that I would get cut again when Bondurant returned to the team, Coach Beaney decided to keep me around. I was more of an extra body to shoot pucks at than a viable option to play in games, but I was more than happy to get a chance to play hockey and be a part of a team every single day. Logan had gone down a different path. We had been on the team together for 4 days before he got cut halfway through Freshman year. After working out the entire summer in preparation for this year, he sternly took me aside during our first day back on campus. He told me that he wasn’t having as much fun playing hockey as he used to and that he was scared his presence would take away from the team. I was heartbroken, but I understood his concerns and I respected his decision. I listened to him as he told me his plans of trying out for ski patrol so that he could focus his attention on skiing, all the while knowing that this was much harder for him than it was for me.
With only three games remaining in the regular season, Coach Beaney and I had still barely talked all year. After an embarrassing loss to our rivals, Williams, he approached me in the hallway. “Pete, are you ready to take our goaltending to the next level?”
The question caught me so off guard that I could barely formulate a response, “Yes, sir.”
“Then you’re in tomorrow. Goodnight.” Beaney walked away and I was left standing in the same hallway I once watched my teammates warm up in from afar. I finally had my chance.
When I told Logan I was starting the next day, he could tell how nervous I was. “If you think about it, you’ve done this hundreds of times before. This game is no different than anything you did growing up.” Even if he was oversimplifying the situation, his words, without a hint of jealousy or longing helped and rang in my ears until game time. At the end of 60 heart-wrenching minutes, I looked up at the scoreboard. Middlebury: 3 Williams: 1. The entire team jumped off the bench and crowded me with hugs and hoots. I looked past the glass, into the student section and saw Logan smiling. I let out a sigh of relief. My entire team was on my side that night.
“You probably don’t want to go too far down Vernor once it gets dark,” Susan Zachary has lived in the heart of Detroit her entire life. Driving around the sprawling neighborhoods of Detroit, she is happy to share her hometown with the three curious young men who were strangers to her a few hours ago. We came to Detroit with the intention of finding a suitable place to move our business and eventually our lives once we were done with college. The sprawling neighborhoods even in the city center give the city an air of immensity, made ominous by the abandoned buildings on every other corner. “Dan Gilbert, the CEO of Quicken Loans, he’s been trying to get businesses to open up in the city. He’s giving away office space for free for any entrepreneurs that will move their operations to Detroit.”
We pass the Quicken Loans Incubator building, a skyscraper that seems as empty and dead as the houses we saw earlier. Once a bustling, prosperous hub of economic activity in the United States, Detroit has seen its population plummet by over sixty percent. A historic mansion two blocks further, pristinely maintained by the city harkens back to this golden age when Detroit was the Motor City. Further down the road is an explosion of vibrant graffiti that occupies three facades of a deserted warehouse. The vibrant vandalism next to this magnificent architecture serves as a reminder that
Detroit lives through its art.
“Here’s something that a lot of people like,” Susan chimes in as we turn down Heidleberg Street, an innocuous road in the East side of the city. A vacant lot gives way to what looks like a pile of garbage. The abandoned house in the background seems to be stripped of its paint. Upon closer examination, the polka dots adorning the walls come into focus and the forsaken abode is transformed into a fun house. Located in the historically African-American Black Bottom neighborhood, the Heidleberg Project is an outdoor art exhibit that attracts thousands of tourists each year. At first, the project consisted of painting a series of houses with bright dots of many colors and attaching salvaged items to the houses. The project has evolved and grown to transform a hard-core inner city neighborhood where people were afraid to walk, even in daytime, into one in which neighbors took pride.
That night we found ourselves in a smoke-filled kitchen. Susan turned us loose a few hours ago to discover the nightlife for ourselves. Now we waited at the counter for our barbecue as the sweet haze stung our eyes and filled our throats. From the next room we could hear a deep soulful voice.
“It’s open mike night,” the cashier explained. “Why don’t you all go check it out?’ With our barbecue pork in hand, we were ushered into the dark room and found a crowd of people in front of a stage. The voice belonged to a large black man with deep eyes and a fedora who finished his song and was cheered off the stage. Despite the fact that the next singer was not nearly as talented, everybody in the bar sang along to a song that I had never heard before. As the crowd celebrated her efforts, I felt the communal bond that united the people in the room that night. With my sauce soaked fingers I clapped, and for the first time felt like Detroit would take me in.
I almost quit the team my junior year. Since my first career start, I had won 6 games, including a first round playoff upset, tied 2 and lost 2. The announcers called it the best stretch of goaltending since before my Freshman year. We were playing against the second best team in the nation and I let up three easy goals before Beaney replaced me with Bondurant. “Refocus yourself and be ready for the next game,” he told me, patting me on the back as I came to the bench. For me, that next game would not come until over a full year later.
Meanwhile, Logan busted back onto the college hockey scene by transferring schools and joining the Ole Miss club hockey team. He was by far the best player on the team and rather enjoyed the relaxed lifestyle and relative celebrity that came with playing hockey in the South. His love for the game returned and without his presence and enthusiasm, I began to spiral into a deep cynicism towards hockey.
After my run as the starting goalie, there was no way that I could go back to being just another body on the team. I lay awake at night, cursing Beaney. After all, I had only lost two games and only got pulled one time. The frustration of not playing consumed me. As a result, my play in practice got significantly worse which only compounded my annoyance. I was not having fun playing hockey anymore. My best friend was gone enjoying the best year of his hockey career. Beaney refused to even acknowledge my presence on the team. The year ended unceremoniously, Bowdoin ran us out of our own building in the first round of the playoffs. The seniors were happy to be done with the year and for the first time, so was I.
It wasn’t that Detroit was a decrepit or a forlorn city. I actually found it to be one of the most spirited cities I’ve ever been to. City pride and hope for a better future was contagious among its population and Logan was no different. He had poured his soul into flippant the last couple of months with an intensity that I had not seen since his freshman year hockey days. If there was ever any question of his moving to Detroit, those doubts had been crushed after our first full day in the city. I, on the other hand, couldn’t feel more conflicted. On the one hand I had promised to go with Logan and pursue flippant to the ends of the earth. On the other hand that I hated to admit, I was growing tired of the company.
I found myself pulling Logan aside, as he did to me two years prior, sternly sitting down to talk. I told him I wasn’t having as much fun doing flippant as I used to and that I was scared that I would make it less fun for him too. I could see he was disappointed, but he listened to me detail my plans to fish in Alaska over the summer and to pursue a hockey career after college. He knew first hand how hard it was for me to tell him that.
My last year on the team. I took the longest break from hockey in my recent life over the summer- two months without skating on ice. During that period, I had enough time to reflect and I realized that I loved the game too much to not come back for my final year. Beaney recruited a new goalie, Steve Klein, a 21 year old from Saskatchewan, and from day one it was clear that he was a star. I accepted my new role as the second goalie and I thrived in practice and as a mentor for Klein. He carried the team on his back with his play and I became a veteran presence in the locker room for our very young team. The team relied on the rookie goaltender to win games and he did just that. With the playoffs only days away, their confidence in him was at an all time high… until he sprained his knee in practice.
All of a sudden, months removed from my last game, I was going to be the goalie in the playoffs. My last playoffs. My last chance. Questions and doubts filled my mind on the bus ride to Amherst as I prepared for what could possibly be the last game of my career. Deep down I heard Logan’s voice telling me that I had done this hundreds of times before and this game would be no different.
It was a 10 hour drive back to Middlebury from Detroit. If you spend ten hours alone with any person, any grievances you have with one another are bound to be aired. I was sure that Logan was going to talk about my announcement about my involvement with flippant at some point. After all, the wound was still fresh. Several hours in to the trip, he finally brought up something that was bothering him.
“I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if we were teammates.” I was floored. Logan had never and would never express regrets for the decisions he made about ending his hockey career. For the next hour we talked about how much fun we would have had and fantasized about how exactly we would have returned the team to its former glory.
For the first time I understood the full ramifications of my decision to step back from flippant. I was ruining another chance for us to be teammates. I wondered if I would be having the same conversation about missing out on flippant in a few short years.
When I left the locker room for the last time as a Middlebury hockey player, I could barely hold my bag. Four years of grueling work had culminated in a first round playoff loss. The Amherst players to my left were bursting out of their locker room into the arms of beaming parents and students. I looked around our side of the rink and for the first time that day, saw a familiar sight walking towards me: a turquoise blue fanny pack resting on some dingus’s hip. My eyes were drawn up towards the figure’s chest: he was wearing a t-shirt with an upside down pocket. Sometimes the best teammates don’t ever even have to play on your team.