Sunday, May 23, 2010

Salvage King, Ya!

A Herky-Jerky Picaresque

The opening quote from "Heart of Darkness" tells you this is not going to be your ordinary hockey story.

The book's protagonist "desired to have Kings meet him...on his return from some ghastly Nowhere, where he intended to accomplish great things."

Here the "ghastly Nowhere" is the horrific world of pro hockey, and the word "Kings" refers to both the LA Kings and the name of the salvage yard operated by our hero. To cement the connection with "Heart of Darkness," his fiancée is known only as "the Intended."

The second quote, from Eliot's "The Dry Salvages," announces a water motif, which is reinforced by the hockey player's ironic name, Drinkwater. He prefers booze. Water is something people drown in, like his grandfather, and a dead California surfer, and the ships and planes that sink beneath the waves before his very eyes.

Blindness is another motif. Drinkwater has a bad eye. His uncle wears an eyepatch. A player loses an eye to one of Drinkwater's shots on goal. A dead horse flies past in a tornado, eyes open. A shark is shot in the eye. "Out vile jelly," thinks Drinkwater. He sees but cannot resist the violence, hypocrisy, and decadence of pro hockey. He's unruly on and off the ice. He snorts cocaine, takes Antabuse to control his drinking, shuttles back and forth between the three women in his life, his Intended, his ex-wife, and a waitress known only as X.

The GM has a huge face, part meat, part vegetable. Count your fingers after shaking hands with him. This man wouldn't give you the parsley off his plate, he wouldn't give a worm to a blind robin, he'd sell a blind man a rat's asshole for a wedding ring.

But it's not just pro hockey. The game's ills are society's ills, and violence is everywhere. An ETA bomb blows up Drinkwater's packsack. His dentist commits murder. A bullet hole in his car signals the death of a young boy in a Disneyland parking lot. A Coast Guard ship capsizes, planes keep crashing around him -- a jetliner at LAX, a floatplane cartwheeling across a California inlet, another slamming into the lake in front of his house. He grabs a body but loses his grip. He swims down among the dead.

Drug use is epidemic. Everyone is using or selling. Farmboys, jocks at the local gymn. Coke snorted out of the Stanley Cup, off a model's belly. One of Drinkwater's friends wants him to smuggle in a small boatload. Bodies of addicts turn up in the lake in front of his house. Alberta is a giant quivering nostril. The whole planet is freebasing.

A Hockey Everyman

Drinkwater's played for the Pats, Broncos, Mudcats, Screaming Eagles, and LA Kings. He's played for Billings, Billington, and the Birmingham Bulls, for Kansas City and Salt Lake City, for Adirondack in the AHL, Peoria and Flint in the IHL. He's played the hookworm league, and semi-pro in Seattle, and for $100 a game in Saskatchewan. He's won the K-Mart Player of the Game in Omaha.

His face has been carved up by Bobby Clarke and Billy Smith. He's driven around with Gretzky in a gold Italian sport car. He's played poker with Harold Snepsts, lent smokes to Eddie Mio, sat drinking in the same bar as Chelios and Ludwig, Chris Nilan and John Kordic. He's been coached by Bep Guidolin, defended by Don Cherry.

He wears a knee brace and is "held together with velcro and tape." He keeps breaking his fingers and nose. He's punched a fan and a ref. He's been concussed, knifed in the thigh, defrauded by his agent. He's played the game since before helmets were mandatory.

The forward with Phoenix, an Oiler draft pick, comes at me, using me for a screen, and powers a slapshot right past my midsection. His shot breaks our goalie's stick. I ice the puck up high, ring the glass to get a whistle, to let Dobozy the redhead goalie pick out a new stick.

"He broke my stick," Dobozy complains, sounding offended, "my good stick."

"There, there, don't cry." I'm just glad the Phoenix guy didn't maim me with his slapshot, a howitzer, a cannon blasting by my gonads. He rang one off our goalie's mask; out cold. 120 MPH. Now: imagine that it's another game in Podunk that means nothing and it's YOUR head, your face on the line. The pruneface scouts at the end of the arena jot down the following brainstorm: "LACKS DESIRE." Fuck them. As if they have the market on desire.


Jarman is primarily a short story writer, and this, his only novel, is packaged in non-linear chunks. There's no complete game, season or conventional plot. It's all in pieces, like Drinkwater himself. Everything is flattened out, past and present and future rolled into one.

Because of the structure, most readers would not notice if a few of the 58 chapters were sent to the penalty box. They have titles like Kingdom Fucking Come, Sexual Nebraska, Hoarse Latitudes, The Land of No Odometers. Excerpts have appeared in 28 journals and one anthology.

Jarman's latest collection, My White Planet, contains an account of playing hockey in New Brunswick. It's called "A Nation Plays Chopsticks." Any hockey anthology without it is incomplete.