na foine ting

Saturday, November 05, 2005
His name's Rob.

He's got one tooth in front and when I first met him in the West Roxbury pub he was still wearing his safety red nylon jacket that had "COACH" embroidered on it in big black letters. He'd looped his whistle around his belt when his friends gave him too much shit about it. But the jacket stayed on.

Rob's a Special Ed teacher here in the West Rox school district, son of two teachers and the eldest of seven kids. He played hockey most of his life, including when he went to Montreal for college.

"I thought I'd be the only Boston guy up there," he told me. "No, there were twenty-five of us, twenty five Boston guys."

"And you all played hockey," I added.

"You know it," he said.

When Rob was a kid most of West Roxbury was farms. He got paid a nickel a day to help out some old lady who owned most of the acreage here, and had chicken coops. Rob's job was collecting the eggs.

When Rob was a kid there was no organized hockey in West Rox, in fact no organized hockey for youth in most of Boston. Then came the Bruins' golden playoff years, and suddenly hockey sprang up everywhere.

"You know that Billings Field over there?" he asked me. It's the field where I take the kids to play most sunny days. I nodded. "Well, every winter they'd flood that field, and we'd play hockey there. Every winter for years, but not now. It's not cold enough these days. Won't stay solid." I looked confused. "Global warming," he said.

"And when we didn't play hockey on the field, we could play up on the swamp." I've driven past the swamp several times: this isn't some backyard pond, this is several square miles of water and the soft golden spines of reeds. I pictured boys skating in and amongst the stalks, losing the puck in the leaves and moss.

In addition to his job as a Special Ed teacher, Rob's the union rep for his district, and just recently got asked to help coach peewee hockey. "I'm just doin' them a favor," he said. "Just helping out a little bit." Clearly for Rob it's more serious than that. He's told me at length about the kids, about the other coach -- a twenty two year old guy that while Rob hastened to say is very nice and a fine athlete and instructor, clearly doesn't have the level of worshipful seriousness that Rob seems to think the job requires. So Rob takes his 'helping out' very seriously. "It's a good cop, bad cop thing." He paused. He was halfway through the third Miller he'd had since I'd been there. He'd never actually finished any of them. "The other coach is the good cop. I'm the bad cop," Rob clarified.

Rob asked me about why I moved to Boston, and we talked about hockey some more, and the fact that I was there at the pub working on my book. This all led me to being introduced to more people. Pete, who's also writing a book. He taught with Rob's parents and was Rob's mentor. Paul, who's my age, and Irish. He's been to California, and told me all about the drive from San Francisco to San Diego. "That was a hell of a long way," he said.

We hung around and talked hockey and books and teaching some more, and Rob got on the subject again of coaching. "You know," he said, I've got a couple of girls on my team." He paused, as if for reaction. I just nodded and said that was great. He took another sip of his beer, and went on. "Now, I just started, but after I get my legs under me a little bit, maybe you should come down. You know. Get some free ice time. You need the ice time, don't you?"

I looked at him, slightly dumbfounded. "Help coach?" I asked finally.

"Yeah." He nodded. "It's good for those girls to have a girl on the ice. You know. An older one. It's good for them to see it."

"I'd love to," I said, without hesitation.

"Well, you know. When I get my legs under me and all."

"Right," I said. "Of course."

The topic turned to other things, and then I said I really needed to get back to work on my book and then get home. Rob and the guys gave me a good natured sort of bad time about it, then left me alone.

I went back to the pub last night to work on revisions, and sure enough Rob and his cronies were there. I said I'd come finish my beer with them when I was done writing, and hang around for a few minutes to listen to all the karaoke folks.

I got a third of the way through the book and my eyes started to cross, so I closed up shop and made my way back to the bar. Paul jumped off his stool and insisted I sit down, and talk about hockey and schools and district politics and great first novels started up again like we'd never left off.

Just a bunch of drunk guys and me down at the pub. But I'd felt so isolated and cut off, and Rob was still talking about me helping out with the peewee team, and I was feeling pretty good.

Then Rob said something about my kids and asked me what my husband did, and as I always do, I corrected "wife" and went on from there telling him about Bec and her old job and her new job.

Something had gone wrong, though. The whole conversation had suddenly changed, and Rob said "now, wait, now, what? What?"

I laughed it off. It's the standard tactic I take to ease someone past the shock reaction. My way of letting them off the hook, especially old guys like Rob. "Uh oh," I laughed. "Just ground your gears, didn't I? All right, all right. You breathe deeply, and I'll buy you a drink." Laughing some more. Come on, I thought. Come on.

Rob acted like I hadn't said anything. "So that's the real reason you moved to Boston, isn't it?" His tone was mocking, nasty.

"No," I said. Still with the laughing. But answering him. "I told you. I moved here for the hockey."

He ignored me again. "Well," he said, "I was raised Irish Catholic." Pausing, like he expected me to answer that somehow.

"Yeah, I pretty much figured that," I said. "And?"

"Well what do you think?" was his answer.

"OK," I said. "Let's drop this. Let's get back to what we were talking about."

Rob shook his head. "You tricked me," he said.

"I what?!"

"You tricked me. Here I was thinking you were this nice girl and --"

I ran out of good humor. I picked up my bag. "All right. This is bullshit. I'm out of here. See you around."

I walked out of the bar and didn't burst into tears until I was in the parking lot, after I'd kicked the parking lot wall.


I cried for a long time. Not just because of the homophobic bullshit. I know it's there. I've dealt with it; I know it exists. But this is my new home, and Rob was the first real friend I'd made here. And suddenly, definitively, I went from a friend to someone he feared, hated, loathed.

It took me a while to realize Rob was standing there. I had no more good humor, no more laughing. "Stay the fuck away from me," I snarled.

"Kate," he said. "Kate." Unfazed. "Now see, that's the last thing I want to see. That I made a woman cry."

"Well, what the fuck did you think was going to happen?" I demanded. "That one second we're friends and the next I'm supposed to understand when you don't like me anymore?"

He made a distressed sound. "Listen," he said. "I came out here to apologize. For everything. How I acted, what I said. You threw me for a loop, that's all. I didn't know what to say and then when I said it I regretted it."

"Well you should."

"I know. I know it. I'm sorry. Listen, Kate, I was raised Irish Catholic," he started again.

I turned on him, livid. "You think that gives you any fucking excuse??!" Then it was my turn to relent. "I get that," I said. "OK? I understand."

"No," he said, "I don't think you do. My parents were Irish, I went to St. Teresa's down there; you see that steeple?" he pointed. "Then I went to the Jesuit school and then I went to the damn Jesuit university in Montreal. I hate the fuckin' Church," he said. "I was one of those kids the priest was abusing when I was an altar boy. All right? But it was how I was raised, and that's a lot of years. That's all I'm saying. You know?"

I was silent. Trying to wrap my brain around all of it, trying to figure out what the fuck to say.

Rob stood there with his hands jammed in the pockets of the bright red jacket with COACH embroidered on it.

"I'm real sorry, Kate. You seemed like a nice girl and--"

"I'm STILL a nice girl!!" I all but hollered.

Rob shook his head. "No, no, I know that. It just wasn't what I was expecting. I said the wrong thing. I did the wrong thing. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."

I sat in silence.

"Please accept my apology, Kate. Come on. I cut my night short with my friends back there to come out here and apologize to you. I haven't done that in years. That's how serious I am. I'm sorry."

"All right, all right, I accept your apology."

"Let me buy you a beer, make it up to you."

I looked at him in bewilderment. "Back there?"

"Nah, there's another pub down the way."

I laughed, despite everything. "The Corrib."

He looked surprised. "You know it?"

"Yeah," I said, "I do."

So I sat with Rob at the Corrib, where I got to meet the school district commissioner and a few other West Roxbury luminaries. The commissioner pointed to Rob's glass. "You know," he said, "he never finishes a beer."

Rob introduced me proudly and said later to me "you know, if you need a job I can probably get you a teaching gig."

"I'd rather coach for free," I said.

"Well, OK," he conceeded. "Or that, too."

Rob apologized about once every three minutes for the rest of the evening. The more he apologized and the more he drank while he did it, the rest of the truth became clear.

More so when he asked me out on a date.

"Rob," I said. "We've been over this. I'm *married.* Remember? That's what started this whole issue."

"Really really married?" he asked me.

"Yeah. Very married. Very happily so."

He insisted on walking me back to my car, which was parked by Billings Field and where, Rob said for the third time that night, they used to flood the baseball diamond in the winter so the kids could skate.

"And they can't anymore because of the global warming," I continued.

He chuckled. "That's right."

"Good night, Rob."

"Good night, Kate."

Kate, this is simply one of the most moving blog entries I've ever read. I felt like I was in that pub with you, and when things went bad I wept. You're a writer.
Yes. Absolutely. But instead of being in the pub, I was back in the fabric store with you. Words fail me: not only do you already own them all, all those words, but you also regularaly put them to better use than I can. Thanks. For this post and so many that came before, and for sharing it with us.
Call it stereotyping from experience, but every man I've ever met without the full set of teeth has for whatever reason been a red neck. Over my lifetime of 40 years that'a about four guys only, but enough for me. Don't ask me why ... so my opinion is watch Rob, despite the retraction he still sounds like an arsehole to me. But time will tell.
Actually, I've re-read your post.

'He left his friends at the bar to come an apologise and you could count the stars, or some twaddle, since he last did that'! He's a creep.

Thankfully I never tell people how to live their lives (I'm a Libertarian, see), but give the guy a wide berth :)

I know, toothlessism. But really.
'an apologise'.

Should be 'and apologise', of course.

Libertarian pedant, apparently.
I'm dumbfounded. I was so happy through most of that post that you found someone to work with you on the ice, and that all was right in Kate's world...then that...I hope it goes smoothly, but sometimes you can't ever rid yourself of a particular first impression. Especially, that one.
What an idiot. I mean, a guy can never have too many hot, lesbian friends. ;-)
People never cease to amaze me. I hope that's the only time you run into any kind of homophobic crap out there.

PS We were driving through Sunnyvale the other day and I though, sweet, we have a little extra time, let's visit Kate -- and then I remembered that you are gone :-(
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