The Hockey Beard is a phenomenon I’d only just heard about. It came up when some friends and I were ganging up on my roommate to try and convince him to shave his wretched beard that his girlfriend proclaims “smells like wet cheese.”
“I can’t shave now.” He declared, “It’s the playoffs.”
“What in god’s name are you talking about?” I asked.
“It’s the third round of the playoffs. You know, hockey. It’s a Hockey Beard now.”
“You know, a Hockey Beard. You’ve never heard of this?”
“Heard of what?”
“Oh, man! You don’t know about the Hockey Beard?”
“What’s a Hockey Beard?”
He explained, “Every year at the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs hardcore hockey fans start growing a beard until their team gets eliminated. That’s why, at the Stanley Cup Finals, most of the crowd has beards.”
“I’ve never heard of this. And besides all that, what does hockey have to do with you and your beard? You’ve never watched a game of hockey in your life.”
“Not true,” he proclaimed, “this is a Hockey Beard and the Red Wings are still in it. I can’t shave.”
“Bullocks,” I told him. “You’ve been growing this beard for months now. It has nothing to do with hockey. Besides, you’ve never even been to Detroit.”
“Detroit?” he asked. “Who’s talking about Detroit? I’m just a fan of red wings.” He laughed a drug addled laugh and took a sip of his beer.
I had seen through his façade easily enough, but he had sparked new questions in my brain. I was now fixated on the Hockey Beard. How long has this been going on? Where did it originate? Why hadn’t I heard about it until just now? Is this somehow related to the phenomenon of the bad indie rock beard of this decade? Are the hockey playoffs partly responsible for why hipsters everywhere are running around dressed like Tom Sawyer? Perhaps this is the missing link I’ve been looking for. Perhaps the Hockey Beard is the root of all my confusion as to why pop culture has been so generally rotten and foul for the last 9 years.
In my mind there was only one way to get to the bottom of this. I needed to get in touch with my old philosophy professor Terry Allan Breese.
Back in the mid 1990s Professor Breese, as he was known professionally even though all his students called him Terry, was famous around the beaches of Southern California for throwing fantastic tiki lounge parties at his beachfront villa in Malibu. The parties would always start out as a small gathering of students to discuss matters of philosophy over fine wine and cigars in his very elegant study. As the wine flowed and the conversation became more abstract the party would spill out onto the beach where the mood was more festive. There was always good music; Terry had excellent taste. Indoors there would be soft classical pop lingering just loud enough to generate an ambience yet low enough to keep conversation at a civil and natural speaking volume. Outside on the beach the music was more upbeat. It was usually of the space lounge variety hailing mostly from the middle sixties, but interspersed with some modern equivalents like Combustible Edison, Mark Mothersbaugh, or Sukia. The speakers on the beach were always set at just the right level; so strategically placed, and so well camouflaged that it seemed like the music was emanating out of thin air. The mood was always semi-tropical and the weather was always perfect like only Southern California can be. There was always a fully stocked bar where the guests would take turns bartending and showing off their skills at mixing drinks that were sweet and colorful and looked as though they should be drank from a coconut. It became sort of a running competition as to who could make the best mai-tai, the best bay breeze, or the best fuzzy navel. Eventually the party would evolve into a glorious orgy of the beautiful elite getting naked and celebrating life and love beneath the stars of a picturesque Southern California night sky.
I spent many hours pondering as to how the parties never got out of control. Or for that matter, how news of them never seemed to spread beyond a controlled circle of very attractive and equally intelligent thinkers. There was never a fight, or even any hint of violence. Everyone would be drunk, stoned, or both, but very rarely did anyone ever get belligerent or rude. Somehow Terry always maintained an atmosphere that was calm and civilized even into the wee hours of the morning. When the sun began to come up everyone seemed to instinctively know that the party was over. The guests were always careful to clean up after themselves as they would make their way to their sports cars and their motorcycles. By that hour mostly everyone had sobered up enough to drive, and those that didn’t were often escorted into town where they could sit at a bistro in Santa Monica or Venice and enjoy a latte or a cappuccino, and maybe a spot of breakfast on a patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Those carefree days are over now. The late 1990s were a golden era of peace and prosperity that this country may never see again, and Southern California, to me at least, seemed to be the epicenter of it all. These days I live in Olympia. Terry likely keeps his beachfront home, but currently resides in Washington D.C. as Minister-Counsellor & Chargé d’Affaires as well as acting U.S. Ambassador to Canada.
I went through my rolodex calling old phone numbers of fellow students and friends from back then trying desperately to get in touch with Terry, now a very prominent member of the Obama Administration. After a few hours and many phone calls I was given his cell number by my friend Ephraim who still keeps in touch with Terry and now works as a model and an actor in Los Angeles.
I called from my car as I made my way across town to meet with a professor at The Evergreen State College over a different matter entirely. To my good fortune Terry was available and answered his phone.
“Terry, this is Wylie VanWenger. I was one of your students at Pepperdine. You might remember me. We used to discuss Spinozan theory at length in your study at your beach house in Malibu.”
“Ah yes. I remember quite clearly. You used to argue that the illusion of free will is in fact the root of all freedom. How are you?”
“I’m good. How are things in Washington?”
“Oh, busy. Busy. We’ve got a lot of work to do. There’s an awful big mess to clean up and nobody really knows where to start. Still, we’re trying. What can you do besides chomp at the bit, eh? What can I do for you, Wylie?”
“Well, to be honest I just found out about this thing called the Hockey Beard and I was wondering what you could tell me about it.”
Terry laughed. “Ah yes. The Hockey Beard. A strange superstition indeed. What would you like to know?”
“Well, for starters, where did it come from?”
“Well, no one knows for sure, but the general consensus is that it was started sometime in the 1980s by the New York Islanders.”
“So it’s not a Canadian thing?”
“I didn’t say that. I said it started with the Islanders. Since then it’s been co-opted by professional hockey players and fans everywhere, especially in Canada.”
“That makes sense. It’s bloody cold up there. Any excuse to grow a beard is probably a good one.”
“That, and it’s a sort of tradition now. It’s silly really. The notion that luck is a force that can be controlled by anything, let alone a beard, is nothing more than ridiculous superstition. Still, try telling that to a Canadiens fan in a pub in Montreal and you’re likely to get rolled by a gang of bearded French-Canadian thugs.”
“So people take this pretty seriously then?”
“Oh they take it gravely seriously. I’m met men that won’t even buy shaving cream in May and that shave their beards with a hunting knife and cold water if their team gets knocked out.”
It was just about then that I took a right turn and noticed a helicopter that was flying overhead. There was nothing unusual about it at first, but as I watched it further it seemed to be flying a bit erratically. It was rotating upwards and gaining altitude while its tail dropped. It was putting itself into a position that couldn’t possibly sustain flight. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Something was definitely wrong and I had to do something.
“Jesus Christ!” I yelled. “Terry, I’ve got to go. I think a helicopter is about to crash.”
I didn’t wait for him to respond. I hung up on Terry, yanked the car to the side of the road, and dialed 911. As I did the helicopter lost its grip on the skies and began tumbling backwards toward the earth.
“Emergency services, what’s your emergency?”
“I’m on the West Side of Olympia. There’s a helicopter falling out of the sky. I need you to deploy every emergency vehicle you have.”
“Where exactly is the crash taking place?”
“Christ, how should I know? Somewhere northwest of Harrison and Division. Send something fast!”
As I hung up the phone I saw a bright flash and heard a tremendous explosion. There was now a plume of black smoke billowing into the sky somewhere to the west. I pointed my car in that direction and sped toward the beacon.
As I made my way toward the wreck I was passed by a motorcade of speeding police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. I followed them to the crash site which was somewhere on the outskirts of town past Louise Lake and out near Delphi Road, and old logging road that winds through the mountains. We were not the first to arrive. The whole area was a sea of red and blue lights, emergency vehicles, military vehicles, and a swarm of cops, EMTs, and soldiers that I assumed were from nearby Ft. Lewis. I followed in my car as far as I could go, but before I got anywhere near the crash I was stopped by a uniformed soldier holding an assault rifle. I noticed that he had a beard.
“No civilians beyond this point.” He said matter-of-factly.
“What happened? I saw the helicopter go down. Is the pilot alright?”
“Are you the person who made the call to emergency services?” he asked me, his tone now more human and less official.
“Yeah. I called 911 about 5 minutes ago.”
“We appreciate the effort, but we had warning already. The helicopter you saw was engaged in a field exercise. All further information is classified.
“I understand. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“The best thing you can do is to go back about your business and forget you ever saw anything. Don’t tell anybody what you saw here today. We’ve got the situation under control.”
I shrugged. He was right. There was nothing I could do at that point even if I had wanted to. The pilot was likely dead. Mangled to an unrecognizably charred and bloody pulp entangled is a flaming wreck of twisted metal. His death would be chalked up as collateral damage, and his family would be told nothing. He would get a military burial while his wife would get a folded flag and probably a check for five figures.
I started to turn around and continue with my business at the college, but before I did I had to ask, “Sir, are you by chance a hockey fan?”
A smile made its way to his face. “Pittsburgh. Born and raised. I’m not shaving this thing ‘till the Penguins win the Cup.”