Wednesday, June 22, 2011


You know what I did today? I did not volunteer to walk with the grade three class over to the library. I did not visit my dementia dad in his carehome. I did not unload the dishwasher. I did not make any penguins or people out of fondant icing. I did not sew caterpillar and cardsmen costumes for the school play. I did not volunteer to go into work to help move stuff between classrooms. I did not read the paper and try to make thoughtful comparisons about soccer news that I was hoping you would find interesting or entertaining.

Instead I put on my cleats (that not unlike my knees, are held together with pins),

and I played soccer.

And I am happy.

(And sweaty.)

But seriously, why didn’t I unload the dishwasher? That takes like two seconds. Now my kitchen is a mess. Sigh.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pull Yourself Together

As someone who writes about soccer, known for its hooliganism, I can’t help but weigh in on the Stanley Cup riots of this week. But what’s left to say? Like you, I’m embarrassed and angry. I love sport- but this week, some of the good things that go along with sports—endorphins, excitement, and national pride—all turned ugly. Why?

In his excellent book “How Soccer Explains the World”, Franklin Foer writes about how some feminists like Susan Faludi have tried to explain away soccer hooliganism as being a product of “downsized men....deprived of traditional work and knocked off patriarchal pedestals”, who “wanted to reassert their masculinity.” But Foer disagrees and says that the most notorious English hooligan soccer gang’s members include “middle-class thrill seekers.” That’s what we saw on Wednesday. Well dressed, middle class young men (and some women) who can not only afford hundred dollar hockey jerseys, but can afford to toss them onto burning cop cars as they photograph themselves doing so with expensive camera phones. UBC sociologist Rima Wilkes, looking at Wednesdays rioters in Vancouver, says “they weren’t even angry. They were having fun.”

To me, more than anything else, it speaks of boredom. And the thing is I remember some of those feelings of boredom from when I was young. Even though it was 25 years ago, I remember being a frustrated teenager and wanting to get drunk and do stupid, stupid things—just so I could feel something. But like you, I just don’t understand how that feeling translates into flipping cars and smashing things.

Sophie, my 8 year old, was so depressed watching the game after the Canucks went down 2-0 that she said “I’m going to get a piece of paper and draw a picture about my feelings,” and Steve and I struggled to keep straight faces. Of course, I don’t expect that drawing pictures of your feelings is the answer for every drunk and frustrated young man, but come on. Want to feel something? Why not shave your playoff beard, if you had enough cajones to grow one (although many I see in the riot photos don’t appear to be old enough), and splash some acidic aftershave on? I bet that would hurt like a bugger. Or get a hockey stick and ball and head over to the tennis court and whack the ball against the wall for half an hour-- that feels damn satisfying. Or why not stand up to some of those crowds of bastards who are smashing things? I’ve seen great videos of a few brave souls doing just that, and boy, I bet the tension in that moment would sure make you feel alive.

As I headed downtown to work Thursday morning, I saw some red faced young guys in Canucks shirts at Bridgeport Station – heading onto buses leading out of the city, as I was heading into it. Released from their night in the drunk tank? The red in their faces was the ruddy kind you see in those that are hungover, although I’d like to think some of the red was from embarrassment too.

I work at Granville and Georgia across from the Bay, in “Ground Zero” as I heard someone call it, and I was curious as to what I’d see as I headed up from the skytrain station. Plywood where the Bay and Sears once had windows. Spraypainting on the public art that was put up during the Olympics. Charred chunks of sidewalk. Blackened garbage cans. But I also saw tons and tons of people in Canucks jerseys cleaning. For every burned garbage bin, there were four people scrubbing at it, trying to get the black stains off. And tons of positive (and only positive) graffiti on the boarded-up stores, apologizing for our fellow citizens drunken rampage. There were crowds of people around, still writing messages. Whenever people even slightly brushed against each other in the crowd, they apologized. As schmaltzy as this sounds, all of this totally choked me up. I got tears in my eyes the way I do whenever I stand with my kids and sing O Canada before a sporting event, especially when we get to the part about the truth north, strong and free.

Finally I walked by the Canucks team store at Robson and Granville. It was closed, but everything about it was untouched—no glass smashed, no spray painted graffiti—it was as though the Canucks had nothing whatsoever to do with the rioting. Accustomed to reading messages on every surface in sight, I glanced around and noticed the only word was near the handle on the door-- a sign that said Pull. I found myself thinking I was glad it did not say push—we’ve definitely seen enough pushing for now. Come on, Vancouver. I’m pulling for you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Internet is Scary, or, Cristiano Ronaldo calls Soccer Mom ‘Douchebag’ after Sideboob Incident

I want to talk about my blog. I realize that technologically, I’ve always been a late adapter and that blogs are considered passé. It’s all about ‘the Twitter’ now. But blogs might not be dead yet: in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, in a review of a book that grew out of a popular mom blog, columnist Leah McLaren said she felt ‘wistful for the (blog’s) cyber verbiage of yesteryear’ when writers posted entries of more than 200 words. Then Sunday’s New York Times Magazine mentioned that the most prominent sportswriter in America is Bill Simmons, a blogger who sometimes posts up to 6000 words on some topics, and that his blogs are downloaded an average of 600,000 times each. Of course, these are actual writers writing about relevant things, not just navel gazing in soccer cleats, as I have been known to do— but reading about these popular bloggers made me curious about my stats. Who reads me? And then I discovered a button on my blog that can tell me just that.

Don’t worry. I can’t see individual people and I don’t know if you are ignoring me. But I do have a button called Stats that tells me which countries people are viewing my blog from. It’s totally addictive. Why? The other day I checked it to see who was reading me and it turns out my blog had already been looked at 19 times in the Ukraine since that morning . That’s more than the 12 Canadian readers I had in the same time period. The Ukraine? (Oh dear. Given my dodgy grasp of geography, I’m ashamed to admit that if I was handed a blank map of the world and forced to pinpoint the location of the Ukraine, I would kinda wave my hand over one general area, hesitantly, and I might be wrongish.) I’m also inexplicably read by a fair number of readers in the BRIC countries (other than China, who doesn’t give a damn about me.) I even have 1 reader in Zimbabwe.

Naturally, this makes no sense whatsoever.

Luckily it can be easily explained by another kind of statistics my blog gathers for me: the keywords people google which help them find my blog. Of course, there are the expected ones—people who know me and google me by name. But yesterday someone found my blog by googling ‘garbage cans that go up stairs’, because of a piece I wrote about my physiotherapist that mentioned both stairs and garbage cans.

A surprising number of people also google Cristiano Ronaldo and end up on my page. Why? Because a year ago I posted a fake interview I pretended that I had done with Ronaldo. Also, people that googled the word ‘sideboob’ found my blog because of a piece I wrote back in March. ‘Soccer Mom’, and another popular key word, ‘douchebag’, have also landed people on my page in reference to posts I wrote or a friend guest wrote, in the past. Does the title of this post make sense to you now? Cristiano Ronaldo is probably perfectly nice and did not do anything wrong; but, rather, my title might just be the tiniest shameless attempt to increase traffic to my blog. (It’s pathetic, I know. The New York Times Magazine article I referenced earlier has Simmons quoted on others sports blogs as saying “The worst thing that’s happening now is that people are writing things just to drive traffic and get attention.” Oh yeah? Suck it, Simmons, with your 600,000 readers and your ESPN masthead.)

Now I almost wish I didn’t know these statistics at all because it makes me wonder what to write about. In a ridiculous attempt to appeal to my newfound Ukranian readers I actually googled ‘soccer pierogies’ to look for a picture I could use- because pierogies are one of the only Ukranian things I can think of- but sadly, Google Images came up with nothing. (I did find a race where men dress up like pierogi mascots and run on a field {see above}, but there was no soccer ball, so that’s out. I also found a Jesus pierogy that a woman discovered one Easter in her frying pan and sold for $1775 to Golden Palace, the same people that bought the Virgin Mary grilled cheese a few years ago for a much higher price.)

The last stat I discovered is the hardest one to face: my most popular blog ever, by a wide margin, is the only one I did not have a hand in writing. Yup, my friend Frank’s An Open Letter to Soccer Douchebags is my (his) most popular blog ever, having been looked at hundreds of times. Dang.

To console myself I’m going to try to scrape the pentagram shapes of a soccer ball into an uncooked perogy so I can hopefully sell it and make millions. I clearly won’t be making any dough (pun intended) from my writing. Except, perhaps, in the Ukraine. (Wherever that is.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Twenty for Seven

I’m at the Whitecaps game with Lisa. We’ve got two 7 year old boys with us, her son Zane, and Zane’s friend Ty. They’re outfitted in Whitecaps shirts, scarves, and caps, and even though Ty blasphemously tells me that he thinks “soccer is boring”, it seems like they are having a good time while we stand and sing the national anthem and watch the fireworks go off at the beginning of the game.

It might help that they are loaded down with snacks: during the course of the game, they polish off blue slurpees, hot dogs, Sprite, popcorn, cotton candy and gum. They also flirt with three grade 1 girls who are sitting in the row behind them, seemingly parentless. Lisa finds a notepad in her purse and the boys keep themselves busy playing hangman and x’s and o’s. Once or twice their eyes might drift towards the soccer field but I’m not sure. (Of course, I am watching the game, myself, so I might not have caught it.)

In the car on the way out of the stadium parking lot it is pure gridlock. Lisa and I are chatting when we suddenly notice that the boys have their windows down all the way, elbows leaning out, and, perhaps emboldened by all the blue food dye and MSG in their systems, and their success with the grade 1 girls, they are talking to a girl in the car beside us. She’s got her hair in a low side ponytail with a flower fastened in it and probably hasn’t had her licence for long. She’s maybe 18 or 20 and in the car by herself. “Hey, were you at the Whitecaps game?” Ty asks, all cool.

She answers and they actually chat back and forth for a second.

Lisa and I clue in to what’s going on. “Ty!” I said, “That girl is, like 20! Are you flirting with her?”

“Yeah,” he admits. “Old girls are sexy.”