If Mike and I hadn’t been hockey players we may have formed a kinship anyway because of our affinity for cheesecake.
Cookies, cakes, doughnuts—sugared, fried, baked, glazed
carbs. You name it, Mike and I have eaten it. It wasn’t just steaks that kept
us going through the playoffs. In the finals against
Mike’s been drinking Mountain Dew for years. I swear, that stuff will kill you. It looks like antifreeze, so that should be a clue, and I know I’ve heard shit about it shrinking your balls. “C’mon, man, have a coke,” but Mike’s faithful as fuck, so it’s always been Mountain Dew. It came as no surprise, then, when he became a spokesperson for them. The cardboard cutout was too much, and I ragged him for weeks about it. It was retardedly awesome though, and better than that billboard where he’s shaving some girl’s face. Because Mike fucked her, he’d beg to differ, but since the Dew’s probably shrunk his ‘nads, I think I get the final say.
I respect his love of antifreeze; loyalty is one of the
more admiral qualities a guy can have, and fidelity to a soft drink is more
difficult than it sounds. I only had to turn down
I jest, and it might just be a comfort thing, but a man
loyal to his soft drink (or doughnuts!) probably allows that loyalty to
extend to other areas of his life. He’ll probably never leave
But loyalty. If you’re ever in a bar and some idiot comes up to you and tries to start a fight, Mike is probably not the guy you want around. He learned at eighteen that he is never allowed to fight. Ever. It wasn’t even his mom, fearing for his life, but, rather, his coach screaming at him to keep his gloves on. He’s six-four, but not particularly intimidating. Easy going and putting his arms up in the air, saying alright, alright, how about we just get another beer instead? It’s not that he doesn’t have your back. His loyalty just rears its head in a less conventional manner. Which kinda sucks, because, dude, if you’re that tall, you should back me up when I’m arguing with some redneck about AC/DC.
He won’t punch you in the face, but you don’t really want to piss him off. Eyes steeling, quick cuts with his mouth, and the fucker’s never scared me, because his anger’s never been directed towards me, but I’ve seen J.R. duck for cover, Cheli’s eyes widen. Reprimanding you, taking you down a notch, and it’s not that he’s a total woman, or your mom, not that he’s disappointed in you. Just that he’s letting you know you’ve crossed a line, and maybe he is your mom because there’s no real threat—just a kind of “or else” that’s no one’s ever forced him to reveal. Mike doesn’t bluff, so you don’t call that shit.
He reserves these moments for when you’ve really overstepped, when you’ve insulted his teammates, his friends, God forbid his mom. I’m pretty sure if anybody ever did insult his mom, he’d probably kill them. Nothing as cool as an old fashioned duel, he’d probably just bludgeon them with… I guess the bumper on his Mercedes. Anger—righteous anger fueling the fire, and I suppose that’s why I was surprised by his reaction to Bob’s dealings. Some guy steals two, three, four, papers saying nine million dollars from you, and you shrug your shoulders?
I’m a total miser. I want the slowest growing mutual fund on the planet, maybe keep half of it under my mattress just so I know nobody’s gonna touch it. A guy steals ten dollars from me and I’d probably chase him down in Mike’s Mercedes.
I couldn’t understand it, but maybe it was just the papers getting it all wrong as usual. So I called him, and I’d never heard him sound so tired, like he’d been getting asked these questions all day long. He probably was, but where was the righteous indignation? Why wasn’t he screaming thief, thief? An insult to himself, a slap in the face, and shouldn’t that be worse than calling me lazy? (Well, that wasn’t exactly what Cheli said)
Then he told me about his ring.
“Maybe it was just an honest mistake,” and I couldn’t believe I’d just said that. Right, because “could you get this cleaned?” sounds exactly like, “would you mind hocking my greatest achievement?”
His silence was the loudest fuck you I’d ever been dealt. But he didn’t need the ring. What he did can never be taken away, so I still didn’t get it. There was no need for this exhaustion, no time. The season was half gone and the fans and press were screaming for reprieve. It wasn’t enough that Arnott and Barnes had stepped up for the moment; they needed Mike to return, because Mike had always been there, you could always rely on Mike—Jason had just lost a couple of pounds off the Atkins diet and was starting to skate like he meant it. Who knew how long that was gonna last?
We all just needed Mike to get angry, to fight through
this, to fight back. Which was maybe our first mistake, asking Mike for
something he couldn’t give us.
I didn’t think I was asking for that much at the time, telling him that he should just get over it and focus back on hockey. Please, please, my new mantra, because it hurt sometimes to watch him play, and I was hoping that maybe all he needed was me to say something. Because I was his best friend and maybe all those idiots were too dumb just to come out and say it, say it like me, all honesty and truth.
“I thought you’d understand.”
And I wanted to say that I did, and I was trying to remember if the Cheesecake Factory delivered, anything to get back to when I understood Mike so completely, even back to when I was head over heels in love with him and told him. Because that was just misread signals and his reply hurt like hell, but it wasn’t this, wasn’t anywhere close to this where I was at a complete loss. Who was this guy, wearing Mike Modano’s clothes and Mike Modano’s skin, and acting like anything but?
It wasn’t fair, because I’d come to rely on him, to trust that he’d always be there, always be the same. And now I was floundering every time I picked up the phone and heard his voice. I couldn’t breathe, I needed air, he was pulling me under, and please, please, couldn’t he just play better?
Dial tone in my ear, and days later it was still echoing when reporters started asking me about my friend Mike Modano and his horrible season and I didn’t know what to say, because I wasn’t sure if we were still friends.