The Benny Poda Years
25 - Pittsburgh
It was a Wednesday night in the Birmingham of the North, the night when strange things are bound to happen. And I knew exactly where to find everybody I wanted to see. Mellon Arena, where the Hockey is Played. And Harriet had finally moved to town and had season tickets in a terrific spot-section B-21, if you know the place.
Wednesday nights are big hockey nights, for some reason. Just like Sunday nights are Theatre Fag nights and people always read their crappy poetry in bookstores, coffeehouses, bars, and crackhouses on Thursday nights. Tradition. It's an American thing.
I showed my ass up unannounced and slid up to the back of her seat, and said, "Pardon me, haven't we met?" She was surprised as all hell to see me. She was with this dude who looked like a marmot. She told me I wasn't looking so well, and have a seat. I had a seat.
I didn't try to find Nassir because all we'd do was Drink, and if you wish to cultivate a relationship with somebody, you can not do it drunk. But it was HARD, man. I wanted beer like The Penguins wanted to win the Stanley Cup. But I knew I couldn't do it if I was to get anywhere with Harriet, who drank normally save for three nights a week. I didn't know HOW I was gonna maintain.
THEN—THEN, man, I did. When Number 66 hit the ice for the pre-game skate around. I'd just keep my eyes on him like Peter looking at Jesus while walking on water and so long as I did I would never, ever sink. And that's the night Mario Lemieux became my Higher Power. Well, now I smoke crack and drink Maker's Mark, and he is STILL my Higher Power. Because my Higher Power loves me whether I'm fucked or NOT, Lee'd told me that. And Mario IS Love, and his love is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow. He didn't score that night against the Maple Leafs but he racked up two assists and I walked out of there as sober as the day I was born. But I didn't score that night, either. Harriet was WITH the Marmot. I had to get a motel, man! She was with the Marmot because the Marmot had Money, or at least more than she did, and he was how she'd gotten those great seats. I couldn't believe it. But they let me go to hockey games with them and then they let me crash on the couch. And my Game in the Halls was improving—I was actually becoming solvent again, in a manner of speaking. Solvent for ME, at least. I'd sit there with Harriet and Marmot in B-21 and try to make eye contact with my Higher Power. I'd wait outside after games and watch the team get into the bus. I was free and serene.
Until. And there is ALWAYS an UNTIL.
Until that bastard Luke Primo showed the fuck up in Pittsburgh, and he knew where to find me. And he knew he was in the clear, because fans are ALWAYS fighting at hockey games, just like the players. You see, I told you he was fucking Michelle. And during our crack binge, I'd talked like the engine of an ME-109, pal. Like a HOWITZER. She knew all about my deal with Harriet and Pittsburgh and Hockey. And a dime rock from Luke was all it took to get it out of her. A man like Luke Primo will HUNT you down, man. Especially when I'd done what I'd done to him.
And that was the night my Higher Power saved my life. It was a high-octane match with the Penguins' archrival, the Philadelphia Flyers. Mario scored a HAT-trick in THAT one, babe. 5-1 Pittsburgh. I was loving it. I kept screaming, "Mario, Mario, you've saved me from the evil scourge of Drunkenness." And I have a LOUD voice, and we were pretty Close to the Ice. Once, he even glanced up at B-21 after I screamed it, and I think I even saw him smile. I decided this was the night I'd wait out back beside the Team Bus and get him to autograph my forehead with a Sanford Sharpie Fine Point Permanent Marker and then I'd just quit bathing.
I had no idea Luke was in the Arena. He must have been scoping me out from the Cheap Seats with binoculars. And Luke did not follow Hockey. I'm sure he had no idea what was going on nor did he care. But the SECOND the game was over I was out to the bus faster than the Winning Horse out the Gate at the Preakness. I wanted to be first in line. It'd been a fine evening and if it had happened today I'd wish I had some GHB to put in Harriet's drink, since that night Marmot was out Making Money.
Everybody was cheering as Mario walked out the back door in his street clothes, and he was smiling and happy and signing some autographs. I finally got up to him. Then I remember the rest in slow-motion like the assassination of a Kennedy.
Somebody said, "Watch Out!" and somebody said, "It's a drunk Flyers fan," and I turned my head just quick enough to see that bastard Luke Primo CHARGING me, rage and hate in the eyes of his grimaced face with his arm cocked back and brass knuckles on his fingers. By sheer INSTINCT, I ducked. His punch hit Lemieux in the chest. Hard.
Boy, he did not EVEN know how bad he'd just fucked up. To put this as subtly as possible, Mario Lemieux is not a man with whom one would wish to get into a fight. And after that hit he took from Luke, well, he might have taken a step back from the blow, but he didn't fall and he didn't yell. His chest was like a Live Oak, brother. He THREW Primo on the asphalt and held him down by the hair with his left while he WAILED and WAILED on Luke's face with his right, JUST the way he did it on the ice. OH, shit, man. His teammates let him go at it a minute and then three, maybe four of them were pulling him off, saying, "Mario, Mario, it's not worth it." Lemieux got up, straightened himself, breathed deeply and nodded. Then he screamed "MOTHER . . . FUCKER!!!" at Luke's pounded, bloody, knocked-out ass, turned on his heels and walked into the bus. The security guards were dragging Luke off the asphalt and the cops were there and they were cuffing him.
You hit Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh and he hits you back, well, Mario is not the one who goes to the Penalty Box.
And I stayed on in Pittsburgh as long as I could, until finally I got a call from Marmot at the Hall where I normally racked. He was in tears. "That bastard Luke Primo got out of the hospital and I came home and he was fucking my Woman," he whimpered. "He must have gotten her drunk or slipped her a Mick."
YOUR woman? I said. YOUR goddamn woman? Well, Marmot, I said (which was never something I'd ever called him directly), It's YOUR Deal. Pay somebody to ice him. YOU try to beat his ass. And I hung up the phone. Christ, I just wanted to get to Maine or somewhere and just BE. And now I'm in New Hampshire, which is close enough. But I walked out of that Hall and headed for the Greyhound. Before Those Years were over, there was one more person I had to see.