Clarification on Ice


I have never made any unwanted sexual advances in word or deed towards a woman (or a man for that matter). Perhaps, my worst crime is occasionally letting my eyes linger too long on a woman’s body, but the recent sexual misconduct by men in the entertainment, political, news, and other industries has made me wonder if I have ever done anything that has perpetuated this problem.

I know of no incident where it was apparent someone was clearly inappropriate and I didn’t call the person out on it. See the emphasis on the word “clearly.” This post is about a moment I should have asked for clarification and because I did not, it gnaws at me from time to time.

About five or six years ago I attended a minor league hockey game with some members of my athletic club. The club sponsors these kinds of events from time to time. I always avoid the hiking and snowshoe events–knowing I will end up being the guy who slows everyone down, but I like the kind of outings that don’t require a lot of physical activity. So I was jazzed about going to a hockey game. We loaded up in an eight-seat van and drove to the Stockton Arena, Home of the Thunder. The Stockton Thunder was the city’s minor league hockey team at the time. (The Thunder became The Flames in 2015 when there was an NHL affiliate switch, and a new league was created.) The original plan was to see the Sharks, but the club couldn’t get tickets at a reasonable price.

When we got to the Stockton Arena, picked up our tickets at will call, and sat down near center ice, I ended up sitting next to a guy I’ll call Amir. From the ride down I was pretty sure we had precious little in common. He talked with other members about conservative politics, golf, club-league basketball, and Iran–where he was born. I, as usual, spend most of the trip to Stockton quiet.

I had never been to the Stockton Arena before that night and haven’t been there since, but I thought it was a great way to spend an evening. The tickets were reasonable, and I think that is that reason that it had a family feel to it. It almost felt like the Little League games I have attended. Kids roamed free occasionally touching base with mom usually to get money for a soda or dog.

I recall one girl, probably thirteen or fourteen sidestepping between the empty seats in front of us, blocking our view of the game momentarily, smelling of some fruity, floral perfume, asking her mom if she could sit with her girlfriend’s family. Receiving a satisfactory answer and some money for dinner, the girl sidestepped back to the aisle. It was at this time Amir said something to me. I guess he thought it was something I would relate to. It was something I initially thought was (unintentionally) funny, though I suppressed laughing. “Aah, girls at that age, they are so young and fresh.” Closing his eyes and making a long, closed-mouth animated breath, holding his hands in an upward cupping fashion.”I just want to drink them in.” He didn’t say another word on the subject for the rest of the game, but every time the teenager walked by us I wondered if the cupping hands were about. Was he simulating cupping flowers or breasts?

When I got home, I told my wife about the comment Amir made. I told her because I thought it was funny in the sense that it could be taken in a lewd way, but in the way he said it I was pretty sure it was innocent–an old man pining about the days when he was young, and so on and so forth. My wife didn’t see any humor in the words or the hand gesture. She said something to the effect that he should be happy in his older years. The moment seemed to me more like a non-musical version of Maurice Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” but I wondered how I would have reacted if I had a teenage daughter. Perhaps I would have asked him what he meant and would have never found the inspiration to write this post.

I realize this is a very brusque post, but with the dizzying number of sexual misconduct incidents being reported recently reminded me of this episode some years back and I just wanted to write it down. Amir, or whatever his real name is, is still a member of my athletic club. From time to time we make eye contact often in the long mirror behind the locker room sinks. We exchange hellos. Maybe, he remembers me from the hockey excursion. He’s one of those guys who has a booming voice, so I know when he is in the locker room. He likes to talk with his basketball buddies, but never off-color stuff about females of any age. Maybe this is all my dark shit–interpreting a relatively innocent comment into something not so innocent.

The beautiful word

Hands in Namaste prayer mudra by Indian man practicing yoga

“The light in me celebrates the light in you.”

The first time I ever heard the word “Namaste” was–fittingly–at the end of my very first yoga class. The teacher said it and the class repeated it back to her. I instantly liked the word. It sounded as if it was the perfect word to say, our heads bowed, sitting with our legs crossed Indian style and our hands in prayer pose.

For all I knew, namaste could have meant “Go fuck yourself,” but it didn’t. After I rolled up my mat and put it away with the blocks and blanket, I put on my flip flops and walked over to the teacher to say, “Thank you for your practice,” like everyone else was doing, but I also asked what namaste mean. She gave me a warm smile and said it was Sanskrit for “The light in me celebrates the light in you.” If she had said something like “goodbye” or “until next time,” I would have been disappointed, but she didn’t. The word meant something as beautiful as the sound of the word.

I spend much of the time in the shower at that gym surrounded by a bunch of naked men with a smile on my face thinking of namaste. I toweled off and got dressed singing my own namaste song. I said it out loud all the way home on my scooter–my helmet reverberating with the sound naamaaastaaaaae.  Why did I love and still love the word so much? I think it’s one of those words you can say while shaking a hand, hugging, or making love and know that it would fit perfectly for those occasions. For any truly heartfelt occasion.

For me, the English language doesn’t have a word with the emotional punch as namaste has. As a Christian, I cannot find an English word in the faith that compares. If I go to the common Greek words used in my faith, I run into trouble: “Agape” is beautiful in its meaning, “the highest form of love,” but it doesn’t sound like that. It brings up the image of a small aquarium fish–like the kind I bought for my son Peter when he was a kid and after it died I flushed down the toilet only to find just before it disappeared it was feigning death. (Sorry, “Dak Dak the Pirate Snake.”)

Recently, I learned the impossible Greek word “koinonia,” which means, roughly, “communion” or “joint participation.” My pastor decided to liven up our weekly church schedule, changing our Sunday Evening Service and our Wednesday Prayer Meeting to two in-home Bible studies: the Sunday Evening Service became Koinonia Central Bible Study, and the Wednesday Prayer Meeting become Koinonia East Bible Study. As the person who creates the church bulletin every week, I need to spell this word correctly and often. I didn’t–many times–and then, finally, I did. Copy & Paste is a lifesaver.

Hebrew has some words that are easier on the tongue than the above Greek. I have a Jewish yoga teacher who rarely says Namaste at the end of practice, but often says “shalom,” which means “peace” among other nice things. There’s also the lovely-sounding word “Shiloh” which means “a place of peace.” I loved this word before I know it was Hebrew. My mother–a big Neil Diamond fan–used to play this song, among others, when I was a kid growing up. Finally, I would say Immanuel, “God with us,” is nice, but before I was saved I worked in an independent cinema, so my first expose to Immanuel was “Emmanuelle,” a French erotic film. So when the word gets thrown around in sermons during the Christmas season, I have to stay focused, if you know what I mean.

I practice yoga four times a week, so I hear a lot of other Sanskrit words, but, except for Shavasana (Corpse Pose) or the root Asana (pose or posture), I have never consigned any other Sanskrit word to memory. Part of this is because I’m lazy, but also no other Sanskrit word has the same hold on me as Namaste does. Perhaps it is nothing more than it being the first new word I heard after my first yoga class–a class that made me feel better than I had felt in years.

Recently, I was buying lunch at a bodega when I noticed a sign on the counter. It said: “Namaste” followed by a longer English translation than the one at the top of this post–the only translation I have ever known. Instead of “Thanking you” I said “Namaste!” to the woman who bagged my lunch. I immediately felt embarrassed as I left the store. Still, I  shook off the shame and smiled. It was nice to see the word outside of my practice. A few months later I would widen my usual tunnel vision and see that on the front of that building, the signage had changed from the old name (Tootsies) to Namaste. I thought the stand was just a nice gesture. I guess not. Some marketer probably thought it was a good hook. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you can sully a truly beautiful word.