Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"I've Forgotten What Normal Tired Feels Like" (part three)

When the game started, it was immediately apparent that Eli's team was going to dominate. They went ahead 3-0 by the end of the first period, then coasted.

Eli gave up a goal late that he should have stopped (he said he was screened), but he had 18 saves on 19 shots. That sounds quite impressive, but the shots McAllen took were extremely low-quality--the defense played so well that almost every shot they took was either soft or from a poor angle.

It was a strange feeling. Eli had been very amped up about playing, but the actual game felt very flat because Bee Nation, inexplicably, was missing. There were only about 20 people from McAllen in the stands. There were more people from Austin.

"Where was Bee Nation?" Eli said as he took off his mask after the game. "That was disappointing."

There was no time to wonder about it, though, because they played Laredo in an hour, and Eli was going to be a defenseman. It had been four months since Eli had skated out in a tournament game.

Then, much to my surprise, he had his best game ever as a skater.

For the entire game, he was completely dominant on defense. He shut down more breaks than I could count, cleared every puck, and made the right decision every single time. He also got in a rush and scored on a beautiful short-side shot.

This was the extent to which he dominated: in the entire game, Laredo had four shots. I don't think they had a single shot when he was on the ice.

He's generally a competent and savvy defenseman, but this was something else entirely.

They won 8-3 (yes, the goalie playing in his place gave up 3 goals on 4 shots), and when he skated off, I was standing at the rink door.

"That's the best game I've ever played on defense," he said.

"It sure was," I said. "Everyone for Laredo looked like they were skating in slow motion compared to you."

"What a great feeling," he said. "It was so much fun out there!"

Now here's something unexpected in a youth sports environment: the parents like each other. I don't mean our parents--I mean ALL the parents, from all the teams, are comfortable with each other now. We talk between games, we applaud the other team's good plays, and we genuinely like each other. So the Laredo parents were very complimentary to our kids after the game, and we were to theirs as well.

After the game, there was a tailgate party for all the teams before the CHL game that night between Rio Grande Valley and Laredo. We originally planned on going to the game, but it didn't start until 7:30, and Eli's next game was in the morning at 6:30.

We'd seen a carnival about a mile from the hotel as we drove in, and Eli wanted to do that as well. "Okay, so help me set priorities here," I said to him as we ate hot dogs at the tailgate party. "If you can only go to the game OR go to the carnival, which one would you choose?"

He thought for a few seconds. "The carnival," he said.

"An excellent choice," I said. Going to the carnival meant that we could be back at the hotel early enough for him to go to bed by 9, which he needed to do if he wasn't going to feel terrible in the morning.

Another bonus of going to the carnival: pictures for you.

That looks like the image on Eli's goalie mask.

I'm very fond of carnivals, both from my memories as a boy and memories of my neighbor down the street was a carny when he was younger. He taught me how to speak carny (used so carnival folk can speak to each other without the customers understanding them), and he taught me all the tricks used in the "skill-based games" to make sure that the customer rarely wins.

It made me appreciate the people who work at carnivals, because it's a hard, hard lifestyle. I talked to several of the carnies while Eli and Gloria were walking around, and just like when Mr. Neal (my neighbor) was in the carnival, it's still hard work. They're on the road from March through November, and most of them help repair equipment in the three non-traveling months.

One said to me, "It's okay if you don't have a family, but if you have one, you'll lose them."

I make sure that Eli came back and played the games at each of the two booths where I spent most of my time talking to the barker. And he won at both of those booths, which I don't think was a complete accident. They were good guys.

I also got this picture:

That's got to be the go-to tattoo for a carny.

Here's one of Eli's prizes:

It's hard to beat a Rastafarian banana for pure fruit serenity.

Ignore that too-cool-for-school look, by the way--he had an incredibly goofy smile on his face a split-second earlier and I just missed it.

TOMORROW: Holy crap, is this story still going on? It has to finish tomorrow, though, to make room for Friday Links.

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