Way back last year when it was announced that the 2012 American Hockey League All-Star Weekend festivities would take place in Boardwalk Hall at Atlantic City, I cringed.
After all, why would any business want to bring that violent brand of sporting event — birthed in Canada of all places — to America’s family entertainment showcase? Why introduce that certain “element” in the name of restless travelers and ravenous fans of that infamous “sport” from all over North America, mind you, and let it loose amongst the fine restaurants, friendly outlet stores and sandy beaches the town provides?
But the lure of money and open dates and the shining metropolis at the exact center of nowhere but apparently not too far away from everywhere was too much to bear, I guess, and the deed was done despite my objections that were never heard or sought.
Being the sort who wants to watch a good old fashioned sideshow unfold with all the freakish elements intact, I decided to drive the 60 miles down to AC on Monday night to check out all the hot, hot action. I just hoped that I could come as I was, without special knowledge, a look, a phrase, a password, the lack of which might make me conspicuous amongst this secretive but persistent cult. Something told me that just being a regular hockey fan and quasi-media member wasn’t going to cut it.
So, peering out into the mid-Winter blackness of a near-empty highway, I practiced my intonation of the word fidelio and hoped it would be enough.
In no time at all, I arrived in the Gilded Palace of Righteousness, drove through a parking lot in a building dedicated to the rock-ribbed rulers of the Roman Empire, and made my way back into the Winter night, making tracks along the weathered boards by the dunes. It only took a minute or two to come into view, but there was my first indication that things were not quite on the level.
Standing right outside Boardwalk Hall were a collection of deviants, dressed to the nines in animal costumes, parading themselves in the open, prancing about for attention and GETTING IT…men, women and young children attracted to them like magnets! Forget the hugging and high-fiving, these miscreants and their retinue added to the skeeviness by posing for pictures! Facebook trolling, here we come! What makes it even more unsettling was that these erstwhile Furries, already flaunting convention and taking their fetish to the outside world, doubled up the weirdness by adding a separate costume on top of their own, in the guise of uniforms from the participating teams.
Needless to say, I was scandalized.
I always thought of the last stop on the road between the United States and the Old World heading east was about as harmless and comforting as a glass of milk at bed time. Now I’m forced to rethink the whole scenario. The milk can no longer be joined by something as innocuous as chocolate syrup. No…this milk was about to be made unholy by its injection with some mind-altering drug you’d find at the Korova Bar from “A Clockwork Orange.”
But all that trepidation was beaten back as soon as I walked inside. The uniformed masses were kind, friendly, helpful. Take your ticket, say hello, direct you to your seat. It was too good to be true. They all wished us a good time. They’d apparently done their homework. Docile mobs are inactive mobs, content and unaware of the realness and vulgarity of what was about to occur.
They weren’t fooling me. I had their number from the start. Smiling faces held up rubber pucks with numbers inked in dark black marker, beckoning the bleating masses to purchase them for a later, sinister purpose. (I found out at the first intermission, these souvenirs were to be thrown onto the ice surface near a sheet with a bulls-eye, ostensibly for one lucky winner to receive a prize for being closest to the center — probably a whipping — only to see that there were multiple winners. My only guess is that down some dark corridor following the game, the two quarries would receive the greatest punishment or pleasure or both known to these reprobates.)
In virtually every nook of the concourse, persons in various forms of semi-business attire, armed with pens and paper, invited the faithful to put their John Hancock on a form for God knows what. Probably every former social and cultural means of gathering now frowned upon: seal clubbing, acid dropping, Tupperware parties, trepanation, invitations to play Chicago records in reverse to unmask Satanic messages, whale hunting, scrimshaw and Neil Diamond fan clubs.
But the hockey gods — the only ones who mattered tonight — were with me, and my gaze was averted and my body was drawn away from such trifling nonsense.
Still, the pervasive unease that shook me to my soul due to all the appearances of normality were brought into sharp focus when I turned away long enough from chowing down on a feast of Grade F horse meat on a bun, gelatinous sub-standard dough twisted into shape and large Cherry Coke to gaze upon the costumes of the other paying customers.
Harlots, they were. Painted up worse than contestants in Miss America. As brazen and open as those weirdos in the animal suits. It looked like a glorified runway for the Cabela’s Winter catalogue crossed with drunken midnight forays into the hockey jersey function of Microsoft Paint. Strolling proudly on the aqua-flecked linoleum, it was every kind of body type roaming free. Free of consequence, free of judgment and apparently free of the creeping dread known as diabetes.
Damn right $19 can buy this, all for the price of the sanctity of one’s eyeballs and the power wash of one’s memory.