We got our asses spanked.
Tampa Bay just eliminated us from the first round of the playoffs.
We played six games of a seven-game series. We needed to win last night to hang on, but we had nothing left. The tank was empty. The juice was drained. Now our season is over.
The team is gathered in the Red Roadhouse, a popular Hoboken eatery. We reserved a bunch of tables at the back, where there’s a long black leather banquette. Worn wooden tables are pushed together with wood chairs pulled up on the other side. Considering our season just ended, we’re a noisy, jocular group. What else are you going to do? Sit at home and cry?
We’re deep into the Don Julio and beers, along with numerous orders of crab dip and calamari, steaks the size of a dartboard on order. We’ve debriefed about the season and the game, bitched about the reffing, and possibly put a bounty on the head of Tampa Bay’s asshole Dman, Dave “The Rat” Buzinski, for next season. He injured two of our players and never got a single penalty either time.
Yeah, yeah, we know we’re responsible for how things went. Coach drills it into us that bad reffing doesn’t lose games, poor play loses games. Still, sometimes it feels good to vent in a safe place with buddies.
At one point, Alfie pulls out a bottle, shakes a pill into his mouth and swallows it with a big gulp of water.
“What’s that for?” Disco Dan asks. “Your ED?”
Alfie rolls his eyes. “It’s an antihistamine, asshole.”
“Sure.” Dan smirks. “Didn’t know you had that problem, my dude.”
“Too much riding the bike,” Hakim says. “It can cause nerve damage in the uh, nutsack region.”
“Fuck off.” Alfie frowns.
“Seriously.” Hakim nods. “Do you have any loss of sensation there?”
“No! I told you, it’s an antihistamine.”
“Crusher might have problems,” I put in. “He’s on the bike all the time.”
Hearing his name, Crusher peers down the table. “What? What problems?”
“Erectile dysfunction,” Hakim calls to him cheerfully. “From too much bike riding.”
“Jesus.” Crusher shakes his head. “I don’t have any erectile problems. My last girlfriend called me Redwood.”
We all guffaw, including him.
“No more spin classes for me,” Dan says with a laugh.
“Viagra,” I say. “Strong enough for a man but made for a woman.”
They all roar with laughter again.
“Nah, he’s telling the truth,” Dilly says. “Look at his hair. Bald men are more virile.”
Crusher’s hairline is receding and is often the target of our jokes. This year he shaved it all off. “With a body like this, who needs hair,” he boasts.
I’m laughing, but still I swallow a sigh. I’m going to miss these assholes.
Once the season ends, everyone packs up and leaves. Almost everyone, anyway. Lots of guys head home to spend time with their families or travel. I haven’t made my plans yet. And next season, the team could look totally different.
Absently, I pull out my phone to check it and see a missed call and a voice mail. From Vern.
My heart jolts in my chest. Jesus. Is this good news? Or bad?
I quickly check the voice mail. But it’s not Vern, it’s Effie, his assistant, asking me to call her at Vern’s number. What the hell?
She answers. “Hi, Hunter.”
“Hi. What’s going on?”
“Hi.” She pauses to clear her throat. “I, um, have some bad news. Vern had a heart attack this afternoon.”
I blink and sit up straight. “What? Holy shit.”
“Yeah, holy shit is right. He’s okay,” she says quickly. “Well, sort of. He’s alive. He’s having surgery as we speak.”
“Jesus.” I don’t know what to say.
“I’m just letting his clients know. We’ll keep you posted about his condition, but…he’s likely going to be out of commission for a while. Assuming he makes it.” Her voices catches.
“He’ll make it.” He has to. I rub my chest. “What can I do?” Vern lives in Toronto, so it’s not like I can zip up to the hospital to see him.
“I don’t think there’s anything. Gail’s at the hospital with him, and his kids are both flying home. As for business things…we’ll figure that out.”
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