Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Heavy Metal Kid

For those wondering ... and there have been a few... Yes, I'm still alive. 

I put the blog on indefinite hiatus as I wanted to write about other things for a while, and possibly get together some kind of collection of stories I could sell... or bury. While that's still going on, I thought I might as well get one of those stories out there and Black Aces is as good a spot as any. There are no plans to write here full-time again but I may post some things once in a while, hockey-related or not.

And yes, this is a true story.

The Heavy Metal Kid

By Jeremy Milks
All Rights Reserved.

Bill Cogen was hunkered down at the back of our Grade 6 class, at least a year older than the rest of us because he had failed it the first time around.  
There were wild rumours he had failed other grades as well, including Grade 1, and that he might even be 15 years old. No one really knew, but it was an accepted fact among everyone that he had hair on his balls.
One story going around was that he had walked into the Almonte beer store the last summer and bought himself a six-pack without being carded.  The effect of such a story on kids our age doesn’t need to be explained.
But as far as I was concerned, Bill Cogen was the one guy I needed to stay the hell away from at all costs.
He skulked at the back of our classroom like a brooding, evil presence, scribbling heavy metal band logos onto the blood-red skin of his binder. If he had any friends, they were long gone to Naismith Junior High across town. And he didn’t look too happy about it.
He had dull black hair hanging over heavy lidded eyes, pale green skin that looked translucent under classroom light, the beginnings of an oily moustache and a black AC/DC tour t-shirt, which implied he had actually seen the band and been to a concert, where he probably smoked drugs. I didn’t really know what drugs were, but I knew you had to smoke them.
As we picked our desks that first day, the early kids grabbed anything that wasn’t near Cogen. I took a desk in the front row by the window, the farthest point away in the classroom.
 Fred Denning was less fortunate.  His mom had dropped him off late and there was only one desk remaining, right in front of Cogen.
Fred’s hands were shaking as he slowly walked up the row, his head swinging around in one last desperate attempt to see if he had missed an empty desk somehow, or even a trash can he could turn over and sit on. Anything.
Bill had his feet up under his desk, resting on the only empty seat in the room. He didn’t flinch when Fred walked up.
 Fred stood there for a moment, looking at Cogen’s dirty white running shoes with the wet laces untied and hanging off the side of the only empty chair available. Everyone watched this situation develop in silence.
It was then that something crucial broke in Fred’s little mind.
He turned abruptly and walked back to the front of the classroom, heading for the exit with a look on his face that said “Fuck it, I’m going back to Grade 5.”
That’s when Mrs. Church strode forcefully into the room and everyone, even Bill Cogen, took careful notice.  She took care of the situation in a matter of seconds with brutal efficiency.
“Mr.Denning, where do you think you’re going? You were instructed to take a desk. Now I see there is an empty one in front of Mr. Cogen and you will take it. Mr. Cogen, you will remove your shoes from Mr. Denning’s seat and tie those shoe laces. Now…. Welcome to Grade 6. We’ll take attendance.”
She wasn’t asking that these things be done. She was simply describing the events that were to happen in succession, and she was always accurate. Even Bill didn’t dare defy Mrs. Church. He moved his shoes … slowly … but he goddamned well moved them.
            Fred carefully took his seat (now with mud on it) and leaned as far forward as he could. You could tell by his eyes that his mind was now shattered with fear. The pressure of a first day at school was already enormous, but now he could feel Cogen’s rank breath at his back and he had already crossed the infamous Mrs. Church.  
Fred Denning wouldn’t hit puberty for another five years, likely because of these events.
But now that Mrs. Church was in the classroom, we were dealing with a double threat – one from the front and one from the back. It was a lot like the Alamo, but it was going to last for ten months and you had to do homework.
Her name was Leona Magdalene Church. She had the eyes of an albino wolf and skin like an icy windshield. She was feared by every adolescent who knew her name.
Once, according to the stories, she had whacked a kid named Kevin Coady across the face with a wooden ruler and didn’t even get fired for it.
The ruler actually snapped in half and the school nurse had to pull an inch-long wooden shiv out of Kevin’s fat red cheek. His parents had a meeting with Mrs. Church that afternoon and ten minutes later were seen shoving Kevin into the back of a station wagon saying “shut up you little prick” while a bandaged and bruised Kevin screamed “I hate her, I hate her”.  Or so the legend goes.
A long line of innocent children had fallen under her rule and survived with stories that were hard to believe. She wore no glasses as her eyes were better than 20/20. She could see through desks, walls and bullshit. No one ever forgot to do their homework, and dogs didn’t eat it. Dogs would gladly eat their own shit before eating Mrs. Church’s homework assignments. The fear had spread to the animal kingdom.
And this is how Grade Six started, the year we finally reached the social apex of G.L. Comba Public School. The next year would be hell, starting at the bottom in Grade 7, but for the moment we had the power.
Thankfully, Bill Cogen showed no major signs of outright aggression as the weeks went on and mostly kept to himself, although if someone got too close you could almost hear a warning growl, like when you put your hand too close to a dog’s bowl when he’s eating.
Bill was a big AC/DC fan. I didn’t know much about them, except that maybe they were Satan worshippers because they had an album called Highway to Hell.  I secretly wondered if someone could actually get possessed listening to heavy metal music. These were the kinds of serious questions I was preoccupied with back then.
Cogen also had Alice Cooper t-shirts, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden. The more I saw Cogen’s shirts, the more I became fascinated. I needed to hear these bands. This wasn’t an easy thing in the 80’s for a kid my age. My old man let me buy a couple tapes at the Towers Department Store but all I bought was Kiss. I had three Kiss tapes and the radio and that was my life. I thought that was all I needed. But now I knew there was more to it.
Cogen had the key and I had no idea how I could get it out of him. I figured if I tried to befriend him, one of two things would happen – he’d snap my neck in an eruption of violence so sudden that even Mrs. Church would reel in shock or he’d take me under his wing and show me the evil ways.
I decided it was worth the risk.
One day I name-dropped Kiss loud enough for Bill to hear. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him stop chewing on his mock-chicken sandwich for a second and cock his head a little towards me. Those few seconds were terrifying and I began to regret it right away. Maybe he thought Kiss sucked, but I couldn’t understand how someone could think that way. They breathed fire and spat blood.
But Bill moved on to his Wagon Wheel and didn’t say anything to me about Kiss or AC/DC or anything else. My best friend Robbie had his hair spiked on top and kind of long in the back. He liked Bon Jovi. I had thick glasses and short hair, cut by my old man when he was half in the bag on a Sunday afternoon. If Bill was going to talk to anybody, it might be Robbie, but not me.
I had to do something to get noticed. I was sitting with Robbie at lunch, and somehow I got it into my head to take one of my Grandmother’s butter tarts and rub it into Robbie’s face. It seemed like the best joke in the world at that moment, the height of comedy, an act that would make me a hero amongst the guys.
So I did it. Right into his nose and rubbed it around. For a moment, everyone was too shocked to laugh, but when Robbie stood up clawing at his face, the room erupted and I even caught Cogen grinning, looking back and forth between us, maybe waiting for a punch to be thrown.
Once Robbie regained his senses, he threw his orange juice right into my face and I gasped at the shock of it, my glasses covered, the sound of crazy laughter all around.  Even Bill was laughing out loud, looking like he might just throw his Wagon Wheel (but no, Bill never gave up a Wagon Wheel in his life …ever).
There was a crucial moment that hung unfulfilled where the greatest food fight in G.L. Comba Public School history could have broken out. Kids grabbed whatever remained of their lunch - a bread crust, an apple core, a half-finished milk, just to be ready in case anyone took the plunge. We all would have been dragged in, like a herd of panicked animals. But it didn’t happen.
That fear of Mrs. Church was still too real, so Robbie and I gave each other a look that said, “Fair is fair, I got you, you got me” and it was over. But we were both suddenly very cool. And Bill looked right at me and smiled, his two front teeth as yellow as hot mustard.
By the time Mrs. Church walked back in, Robbie and I were cleaned up and sitting at our desks as if nothing had happened. But the Iron Lady sensed something. She was trying to sniff it out but couldn’t quite hone in on the source. Her narrow eyes surveyed the room. I thought she looked at me a little longer than everyone else but it could have been my imagination. She sneered a moment and then turned around and began to prepare the History lesson on the chalkboard.
We had survived that one. That gave us confidence that we could put one over on old Mrs. Church. Too much confidence.


The next day all hell broke loose.
Mothers across town that morning were shocked to see their sons and daughters grabbing anything from the cupboard they could get their hands on – old peanuts, ketchup packets, pinto beans, whole tomatoes, macaroni shells.
The idea had caught on quickly just after the butter tart incident.  People that afternoon had mouthed the words to each other across the classroom. “Food fight. Tomorrow.” And then, “I’m gonna get you, you big piece of shit.”
The final details were hashed out over that afternoon’s recess. We’d have the food fight outside at the baseball diamond at lunch hour. Even Bill Cogen agreed. He was starting to warm up to us.
So the next day, we waited.
Mrs. Church seemed to notice the vibrations being given off and stalked around the classroom looking for the usual contraband, like peashooters or cock drawings or chocolate bars.
Poor Fred Denning (who had developed a stress tic by this time) was so tense that he suddenly sneezed all over his textbook with no warning and a long line of ropey mucus hung there from his nose to the page. The sneeze was so powerful that it startled Mrs. Church into grabbing her ruler instinctively, ready to snap it over someone’s jawbone. We all went “ewww” and laughed instinctively but Mrs. Church slammed the ruler across the desk for silence. And she got it.
Then it started to rain outside. Hard rain. The thunder and lightning came on like a horror movie. It seemingly came out of nowhere but it was so intense that Mrs. Church didn’t even mind when kids wandered away from their desks for a moment to look outside. From our window you could see up the hill to the baseball diamond where the food fight was going to take place, and it seemed like actual waves were rolling down the grass.
It was a disaster. The whole thing would have to be cancelled.
Nobody even had to say a word once the lunch bell rang. It was over and some kids just wandered off to the hallways to eat their lunch on a bench or just sat at their desks staring out the window.
Some were probably glad the whole thing was off, like Fred Denning, who would have been a heavy target for everyone, especially after that unfortunate sneeze. He probably hadn’t slept more than 5 minutes the night before.
Of the 10 or so left in the classroom, we all ate mostly in silence, except for Phil Goylen who ripped an enormous fart on his desk chair. Everyone had a good laugh about that but it didn’t last long. Cogen was back in his gloom and I wasn’t any closer to being able to talk to him.
So I did something.
I should have known that the tension was too tight in that room to risk breaking it. Robbie had wandered off a few desks away to look at Mike Donlan’s Cracked magazine when I grabbed another one of my butter tarts and beaned him right in the back of the head with it.
The room came alive. A little too alive. As I was waiting for Robbie to react, something entirely unexpected happened. Phil Goylen, with all the provocation he needed, hurled half a bologna sandwich across the classroom and it caught poor Fred Denning square in the face, leaving a huge splotch of mustard across his chin and up around his eyes. What Phil Goylen hadn’t counted on was half the sandwich breaking off of Fred’s face and careening to the left, straight into Bill Cogen’s shoulder and then flopping down onto his lap.
Everybody froze as Bill stood up behind Fred and growled “WHAT IN THE FUCK?”
When Fred heard that, he jumped out of his chair in one astonishing athletic movement, hit the floor in a roll, regained his feet and cold-sprinted right through the door.
Fred had simply vanished like a loose charge of electricity. Bill quickly trained his sights on fartmaster Phil Goylen.
He grabbed his Wagon Wheel, and in a stunning reversal of tradition, decided to part ways with it, sending it straight at Phil’s head with surprising velocity. It hit Phil straight between the eyes, throwing Phil back with his hands grasping for his face. It was a glorious moment, and not just because it was a perfect shot, but because Bill was actually smiling when he did it. He wasn’t angry at all. He was merely signaling to us that the food fight was on, even if there were only ten of us.
It probably only lasted for about 60 seconds but that was long enough. I got hit with a few things right away but I wasn’t sure exactly what they were. I think an apple glanced off my shoulder. Something wet hit my ear. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Robbie grab a peach and throw it at Bill but missed by a mile (maybe on purpose). In my naive mind, this signaled that it was okay to throw something at Bill Cogen.
I looked for something to grab but it was too chaotic. I looked up and Cogen was staring right at me. Then he grinned and I knew I was done for. In one swift motion he ripped the thin plastic seal off a chocolate pudding and threw an unexpected underhand bullet.
But my reflexes were top notch in those days. I dodged it and watched it splash all over a set of Mrs. Church’s encyclopedias.
This sight of this defilement made everyone stop right away. As did the sight of Mrs. Church walking through the doorway. And when I turned around, she was staring right at me.
It was time to face death.


Ten of us were lined up inside Principal MacDonald’s office, some of us with food still in our hair and on our shirts. MacDonald - bald, slightly cross-eyed and sporting a thick dark moustache above a wet, pink mouth that always hung open - was sitting at his desk, staring at us in disgust, but it was Mrs. Church’s show.
She stomped back and forth in front of our line, belittling us, sometimes yelling, sometimes whispering (which was even more chilling), even cursing once, calling us “little bastards”, which made MacDonald actually flinch for a moment, but he didn’t interrupt.
The big threat here was how our parents were going to hear about it, and that made Fred Denning actually break down and openly weep, but she showed no mercy. She got right into his face and said she was disappointed in him most of all and there was going to be a long talk with his mother whom Mrs. Church knew personally.
It scared all of us, except for maybe Bill Cogen, because he was the only one who didn’t physically deflate when the subject of our parents came up. Maybe he didn’t have any. Nobody knew.
Mrs. Church asked me to step forward and I did. My hands began to shake and I felt slightly out of body, not knowing what was going to happen next.
“Mr. Milks, you are going to give me an answer right now, an honest answer and you are going to look me right in the eyes when you do it. Now listen closely, as this might make the difference between whether or not I call your parents. In fact, it may make the difference between whether I call all of your parents or not. I want to know who threw the pudding that hit my encyclopedias. Think about it, Mr. Milks. Think long and hard and then I want you tell me who did it. “
For the first time in my life it felt like the next thing I did would determine the course of my whole future. It was up to me to save the entire group by simply pointing my finger at Bill Cogen. I also noticed that she’d immediately turned to look at Bill as she finished. She knew. She knew damn well it was Bill Cogen.
Fred Denning looked at me with tears in his eyes, silently pleading with me to hang Bill. I looked everyone in the face and they were all telling me the same thing, Robbie, Phil, Mike, the whole condemned gang. Any one of them could have spoken up and blamed Bill but they didn’t.
Cogen just stared at me, but it was the look of someone resigned to their fate and not caring. But still he stared at me. Somewhere in the future would be a vicious beating if I said his name in the next few seconds. We all knew that, but I was expected to take one for the good of the whole.
Principal MacDonald was now leaning forward at his desk, eyes wide, wet mouth hanging open in suspense.
I swallowed once and said “I don’t know.”
I looked down at the floor and waited for something to happen. Mrs. Church was likely just as stunned as everyone else that I didn’t turn rat, but she ordered me to step back in line and said simply “Month’s detention.”
All she had to do was look at a sweating, trembling Phil Goylen and he gave it up right away. “It was Bill, Mrs. Church. Please don’t call my parents.”
We were all dismissed except for Cogen, all with a month’s detention. Phil walked ahead of us with his head down, knowing he’d soon have to face Bill and get the beating of a lifetime. Fred trailed at the back, knowing his tears had marked him for the rest of his school life, and the rest of us walked somewhere in the valley between.

            The next week Cogen walked up to me in the classroom during a break. He had something in his hand.
As he got closer, I realized it was a tape.
He grunted “Hey” as he got close and I nodded my head, playing it as cool as possible.
“So you like Kiss huh?” he said as he wiped the black bangs from his eyes.
“Uh, yah. I love Kiss. I mean, they’re okay I guess”, correcting myself, in case Bill thought otherwise.
“Ya. Kiss is cool. But have you heard this before?”
He held out the tape to me and I took it, my hands slightly shaking.
The cover showed a pool of blood, a sledgehammer lying next to it on the ground and the shadow of a hand looming above.  It said “Metallica … Kill ‘Em All”
I knew right away that this was the real deal, that Bill Cogen had just handed me something truly evil and dark.
“You can borrow that if you want. It will blow Kiss right off the planet. But don’t fuck it up or lose it. My cousin Doug got that in the city and it’s rare as shit. You can tape it if you want though.”
He walked away. He didn’t say thanks for not being a rat but I knew this is what the tape meant.
I stared at that tape all day long. Even when I held it in my hand, it had some kind of power. I memorized all the song titles and liner notes on the bus ride home. I even smelled it and it smelled different from my Kiss tapes… somehow. I didn’t know what a song like “The Four Horsemen” would sound like, but I imagined a mountain collapsing and people screaming.
When I got home I pulled my ghetto-blaster down on the floor beside my bed and carefully rewound the tape to the start of Side 1 and hit play while keeping my finger hovered over the stop button just in case the music started to possess me.


            I gave the tape back to Cogen the next day and told him I’d loved it and listened to it six times.
            Bill smiled and showed his yellow teeth.
            “I’ve got a full drawer of tapes at home. Some bands you wouldn’t even believe. Harder than these guys even.”
            I just nodded my head in amazement.
            Bill put his hands in his jean pockets and looked around the schoolyard, like he was making sure no one could hear what he was about to say. Strangely, he seemed shy all of a sudden, but I still had no idea what he was about to ask me.
            “If you want, if you’re not doing anything, I guess you could come over to my place on Friday night and hear those tapes, you know, as a favour to you. I don’t want to keep bringing them to school. Some of that shit is really evil, I could get in big trouble or get them taken away. So, if you want, you could come stay overnight and hang out and listen to them.”
            I didn’t say anything for a second, more in awe than indecision.
He abruptly turned and walked away muttering “Tell me by tomorrow. Or forget it.”


            I think my parents were happy to get rid of me for a night. I was nervous to ask but my old man said “Sure”. He never said “sure”, for any reason. It was weird. My Mom smiled and then got distracted by the youngest of my 3 sisters trying to pull a hot frying pan off the stove filled with oil.     When you’re the oldest of five kids, your parents tend to stop micromanaging everything you do. It’s a little like that Woody Allen joke, where he gets kidnapped and his father dozes off halfway through reading the ransom letter.
            And so on Friday afternoon, I got on the bus with Bill Cogen and went to his house in Clayton, a little village about 15 minutes outside of Almonte.
             I remember seeing my pal Robbie staring at me as I got on the bus behind Bill, wondering what it all meant. Strangely, we were never as close again. Monumental shifts take place within days when you’re that young, and getting on that bus was the start of one for me.
            Bill lived with his mother in a tiny little bungalow and the smell of cigarettes permeated every fibre and surface in the house.
            His mother sat smoking on the couch in front of the television when we got there and told us there were Pizza Pops in the freezer we could have for supper. My mouth watered at the sight of them. I had seen the commercials on TV before but my parents never bought us anything like that. If we had pizza, it was a frozen pizza from the grocery store that consisted of a loose handful of grey cheese all frozen to one side of the cardboard crust, and occasionally you’d find a mushroom or sometimes a band-aid.
            Bill put four Pizza Pops in the microwave and I sat at the green kitchen table waiting for the two and half minutes to hit three zeroes. The microwave beeped four times and Bill pulled them out, golden and steaming.
            He sat down across from me and began eating.
After about a minute, he looked up for a moment and said there was more in the freezer and I could make a couple for myself if I wanted to. He cracked open an ice cold Coke, guzzled half of it right away, went “aaahhh”, burped,  and kept eating until there was strings of cheese hanging off his chin and down onto his t-shirt.
            So I went into the freezer and made my own dinner, beginning to feel sick from hunger and all the cigarette smoke in the air.
            As I was finishing up, Bill microwaved another two and plowed those into him as well. He let one final belch rip through the house when he was done and his mother scolded him by saying “Bill” tonelessly but didn’t look away from the television where she was watching Taxi. He went to the cupboard and pulled out a box of Wagon Wheels, this time generously offering me one right away. He ate three of them with a big glass of milk.
            Then it was off to his room, and he carefully closed the door and locked us in by sliding down a heavy wooden latch that you’d usually only see on a barn door. A few real negative thoughts went through my head at that moment. If Bill decided to start strangling me for some reason, his Mother wouldn’t be able to get through that door if her life depended on it.
            The next thing I noticed was the dartboard on the back of his door. Pinned to the dartboard was a page out of a magazine that showed Terry Fox running down the highway during his cancer marathon with his steel leg. There were rusted darts in his face and body.
            This was a shocking sight to me because Terry Fox was one of my heroes growing up. One of my earliest memories is sitting in front of the television with my Mom and watching him run through Ottawa and shaking hands with Pierre Trudeau on Parliament Hill. Terry died on June 28, 1981, my fifth birthday, and for that reason I felt a real strong connection to him. Now here was Terry up on a dartboard and I tried not to look at it. I felt like I was betraying Terry by even being in this room, just like I was betraying my best friend Robbie.
            The walls were covered with heavy metal posters, but one that stood out was a poster of Samantha Fox with no top on, bare, huge breasts hanging out, wearing nothing but leotards and one leg up on a bench press.
            “You’re Mom actually lets you put that up on the wall?” I asked, amazed.
            “I can do whatever I want in here. My Mom’s not allowed in. I got a box full of Playboy’s under my bed. I got them from my cousin Doug.”
            He pulled out a milk crate full of Playboy’s and we sat on his bed and started flipping through them. My eyeballs nearly fell out of my head, although I still felt strange knowing his mother was just outside the door sitting on the couch. Now I knew what that heavy wooden latch was for.
            Before I could even get to the first centerfold, Bill pulled out a huge knife from his bedside drawer. That got my attention. It was one of those “Rambo” knives with a compass on the end.
            “Where’d you get that thing? Is that the Rambo knife?”
            “Exactly the same. My cousin Doug got it for me.”
            His cousin Doug was starting to sound like a cool guy.
            Then he started unscrewing the round compass on the end of the handle and inside was a thick needle and black string.
            “You know what this is for don’t you?” he asked.
            I knew. I had seen First Blood ten times already. It was for sewing up knife wounds on your body. No freezing.
            “That’s right. And see how thick this needle is? That’s because you need it to be thick so it can go through your skin without it breaking.”
            Then he slid something else out of the handle. It was a shotgun shell.
            “If you ever get shot and the bullet goes all the way through you, you break open this shell and sprinkle the gunpowder in the bullet hole at both ends and light one end on fire. It will burn all the veins closed so you don’t bleed to death. It would hurt like a bitch though. You’d probably pass out from shock but it could save your life.”
            I just nodded.
            “Also, if you have this but you don’t have a gun, you can take a hammer and hit it right on the head and it’ll explode. I saw it in a horror movie called Phantasm.”
            “Cool. Do you have any horror movies we could watch?” I asked.
            “Yah, sure, I got all the Friday the 13th movies … but my Mom’s probably going to use the TV all night.”
            “Oh” I said, disappointed.
            “But don’t worry about that. Check this out.”
            And he went over to his dresser and opened the top drawer. The entire thing was filled with tapes. The heavy metal tapes. I peered in and quickly ran over the names on the cases. He kept pulling certain ones out and showing me the covers.
            AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood…You’ve Got It” showed a guy with a guitar stabbed through his body and covered in blood. Grim Reaper’s “Fear No Evil” had a skeleton in a cloak carrying a scythe and jumping a motorcycle through a stained glass window.
            That was the tape Bill decided to play for me first.
            “These guys are real Satanists. There’s all sorts of hidden messages in the songs. This is actually my cousin Doug’s tape but he lent it to me because he wanted to get it out of his house for a while. Strange things were happening that he couldn’t explain.”
            When the music started, I began to get paranoid. Weird fears began to gnaw at my brain. I could see out the window that it was already starting to get dark outside.
            Bill made me put my head close to the speaker.
            “Listen closely… it’s behind the music a bit, but he’s saying ‘friends with the devil, friends with the devil’. Can you hear it?”
            I couldn’t. All I could hear was “fear no evil” in a high falsetto voice.
            “But be careful”, he continued, “because if you hear it six times in a row, Doug says you could get possessed.”
            I shot my head away from the speaker and looked at his face, searching for any sign he was playing some kind of sick joke on me. He wasn’t. Bill still had his head close to the speaker but he suddenly slammed down the volume knob, cutting away the music.
            “Whoa! That was close. I heard it five times and half. “
            He turned the volume back up and looked at me strangely.
            “You scared?” he asked.
            “No” I lied. But I made a proposal.
            “How about we listen to something else? What about that Whitesnake?”
            “Don’t worry. The bad part of the song is over. It can’t hurt you now.  Let’s keep this on. You gotta hear the whole side.”
            Bill kept playing me tapes as we flipped through his Playboys. I was indulging in so much “bad stuff” that my nerves felt shredded. Hours seemed to pass.
            At some point a very loud bang from somewhere inside the house made both of us freeze and look at each other in horror.
            It sounded like something heavy had fallen over – a body? Bill sprung off the bed towards the ghetto blaster and stopped the tape, his eyes darting around the room, formulating some kind of plan in his head. His grabbed the Rambo knife and shot past me towards his bedroom door and put his ear to it, listening closely. He turned off the light switch (he later told me he did that in order to eliminate any shadows his feet made under the door), and motioned for me to be still even though I hadn’t moved from the moment I heard the horrible, ominous sound.
            All I could hear was what sounded like a newscast on television and the faint rumblings of his mother snoring on the couch. Bill quietly crept to his closet, grabbed something I couldn’t see and came over to me in a silent crouch.
            “Here”, he whispered, and put something into my hand.
It was a machete.
            “I don’t know what’s out there, but we’re going to have to deal with it. I think somebody or something just came into the house. I want you to take this machete, and when I open the door, you follow me and stand guard beside my Mom on the couch while I check it out. If anything comes near her, don’t be afraid to use it. I’m trusting you with my Mom’s life. Don’t be nervous.”
            Before he started towards the latched door, he brought the Rambo blade up to his mouth and kissed it while closing his eyes for a moment, as if he was saying some kind of silent prayer.
            I followed him in a sort of daze. The machete was heavy in my small hands. Nothing felt real. Bill opened the latch slowly and crept out.
            The front door to the house was wide open and you could hear a heavy wind outside which had blown some leaves into the room. His mother had slept through whatever happened and lay there with one arm hanging off the couch touching the floor. If she wasn’t snoring, I would have assumed she’d already been murdered by the way she lay there.
            Bill pointed to his eyes and then pointed at his mother, meaning he wanted me to go to her now and stand beside her. He then pointed to the open door, indicating he was going out there.
            While he crept closer to the door, I stood there beside his mother with the machete. I was looking down at her, praying to God that she wouldn’t wake up and see me standing there with a machete in my hands.  
            He was at the door now and he got into an attack stance, knees bent, Rambo knife held out in stab position, the other hand in a tightly balled fist for backup.
            Then in one incredible move he launched into a somersault, rolled out the door, sprung to his feet and began thrusting the blade in both directions going “Hey! Hey!”
            It was such a wild maneuver that I instinctively raised the machete, just from adrenaline alone.
The next thing I heard was the sound of his Mother’s voice saying “Jesus Christ!”
            Her hand shot out and grabbed my arm, causing the machete to fall out of my hand and hit the floor with a loud clang.
            Bill ran back inside going “Mom, Mom, its okay, he was just trying to protect you. Someone broke into the house!”
            “Who broke into the house?? What the Christ are you talking about?” She still hadn’t let go of my arm. It hurt.
            “The door, Mom! The front door was open. Someone broke it open!” Bill pleaded.
            “Bill, have you lost your goddamned mind? Put that knife down!”
            She finally let go of my arm and I watched it turn beet red at the wrist.
            “For Christ’s sake Bill! It’s windy out tonight and you probably forgot to shut the door properly on your way in. You have to push it near the top because it’s warped. You know that! You two idiots almost gave me a goddamned heart attack.”
            Bill still looked around, unconvinced.
            “I’m going to bed now. I don’t want to hear any bullshit with the music or the knives or the jumping around. I don’t care if you stay up and watch a movie, but I want these knives put away, those leaves swept up and the door closed properly and locked. You got it?”
            “Yes, Mom.”
            I remember thinking it was strange to hear him say “Yes, Mom” just like I did at home. I wasn’t afraid of Bill any more. I was afraid of his Mother.


            “Want to see something else cool?”
He was talking about bats. Huge bats.
            We stood outside in the howling wind with flittering shapes darting across the moonlight, swooping down through branches and whistling past our ears. All I could see were intimations of skeletal wings and black hair. I was horrified and instinctively got into a low crouch on the ground.
            “I told you. There’s hundreds of ‘em out here every night. 100 percent pure bred Vampire Bats!”
            “Bill! Let’s go back inside! I don’t like these things!”
            “Don’t show your fear. Vampire Bats can smell it.”
            I was on the verge of tears now and was about to make a run for the door when I saw that a huge bat was hanging from the porch, the biggest I had ever seen in my short life. It looked like it was staring at me, waiting for me to try to make that door. I was trapped.
            One of the bats flitted off of Bill’s face and he freaked out a little, slapping the air and doing a panicky dance of fear.
            “Okay you fuckin’ bats. Let’s see how you like me now!”
            Bill crawled over to where a hockey stick was lying in a pile of raked leaves. He grabbed it and got back to his feet, brandishing the Sher-Wood like a pole axe, both hands on the butt end with the blade like a scythe.
            He waited for a moment, his eyes darting into the shifting, swirling darkness. Then he slashed the stick in a tight arc through the air above his head and connected with something.
            There was now a wounded bat flopping around at his feet. Incredibly, he had knocked one right out of the air, right before my eyes. He then brought the stick up again over his head and brought it down squarely onto the poor little creature. There was a horrible squeal and that’s all I could take.
            I ran blindly to the door, punching and clawing at the air. I opened my eyes long enough to see that the bat hanging on the porch was no longer there but the black shapes were still streaming by the porch light and at any moment I expected one to latch onto my face.
            I pushed the door open and ran inside to the kitchen area, shaking my whole body in spastic jerks just in case one of them was attached to me somehow. Events were spiraling out of control.
            As I turned around, I witnessed two horrible images that I can still see to this day. One was Bill, still slashing at the sky with that stick in the moonlight with a crazed, angry look on his face, and two, a bat flying into the house through the open door and flapping its way around the ceiling.
            The bat seemed to panic and crashed loudly into a bunch of pots and pans hanging from an iron frame above the counter. It looked huge to me but I had shrunk to about two inches at this point.
            The door to Bill’s mother’s room burst open and she came out in a nightgown. She looked around in confusion and a look of rage began to take over her face but then the bat buzzed her. She let out a frenzied scream and leaped back into her room, slamming the door.
            “Bill! There’s one in the house!” I screamed.
            In an instant he appeared through the doorway and I saw his eyes narrow, searching the ceiling like an assassin. The bat had settled for a moment on top of a curtain rod.
            Then his mother started barking from the other side of the bedroom door.
            “Goddamn it Bill!! Get that fucking bat out of my house!” Then she let out this low moan, and I could hear her feet tapping on the floor and I knew she was still reliving the horror of that bat buzzing her hair.
            “I’ll get the machete” was Bill’s response.
            The thought of Bill killing another one of these things was too much.
            “No Bill! We don’t need to kill it. We just need to get it out of the house. Go get a bed sheet.”
            The solution had come to me without thinking. I had seen it in a movie once. You get a bed sheet, you spread it out with one guy at either end, and you force the bat out the door. I was scared but I felt like I could do it. I had faced a swarm of bats just minutes before. One bat didn’t seem so bad.
            Bill nodded his head in agreement and went and pulled the dirty sheet off his bed and brought it out. I took control of the situation, giving him instructions on how to hold his end and what to do when we got it cornered. He seemed dubious but when I explained I had seen it in a movie, he bought in completely.
            “Wait” I said, “I need to open the door first so we can guide him out.”
            I dropped my end of the sheet and raced over to the front door while the bat still flapped around the kitchen area.
            As soon as I opened it another bat flew in above my head.
            I was so startled by this that I basically panicked and forgot all about our bed sheet plan.
            The two bats went absolutely crazy and began to swoop even lower, one of them fluttering for a moment at his mother’s door. I ran right for Bill’s room and he was right behind me. He slammed the door behind him and threw down the heavy wooden latch.
            His Mom screamed, “Bill! What’s going on? Did you get it out?”
            “No Mom. Now there’s two bats in here. We don’t know what to do.”
            “Two bats?? Jesus Christ, Bill, I’m going to kill you goddammit! I’m calling Murray!”
            Breathlessly, Bill explained that Murray was his Cousin Doug’s father and they both lived down the road.
After a few minutes, Bill called back out to his Mother.
            “Mom? Is Murray bringing over Doug too?”
            “I guess so, since you two are so fucking useless.”
Suddenly Bill seemed braver and began to formulate another plan. I don’t think he wanted his cousin Doug to see him cowering in his room. He said he was going to use the machete this time and that I could take the Rambo knife. I told him I wasn’t doing any such thing and that I was staying in the room until this Murray guy came and took care of the situation.
When we heard a truck pull up into the driveway about five minutes later, Bill went out into the living room holding the machete like Mr. Cool. I quickly shut the door and dropped the latch behind him.
I heard two sets of heavy work boots walk into the house and Bill’s mother shouting “Is that you Murray?”
“Yap.  Are you hidin’ out in your room there Sheila?”
I could hear the sound of three people laughing, one of them Bill. What a phony. But for the first time I considered going out there to save some face. Until I heard Murray say “Holy Jesus, would you look at the size of that one”.
“Bill, put down that goddamned machete will ya? You’ll never cut a bat down with one of those anyways.”
“I took one down with a hockey stick outside, Uncle Murray. I’ll show you later when we get these ones”.
I heard Cousin Doug say “Sweet” in a raspy teenaged voice.
For the next 25 minutes there was a series of crashes and bangs and swearing, but soon I heard the front door slam shut and some celebratory high fives.
“You can come on out now Sheila. We got ‘em both through the door”, said Uncle Murray.
I figured this was a good time to come out of hiding too but my appearance seemed to shock everybody. I tried on a brave smile and said “They’re gone?”
“Christ, who’s that young fella?” asked Uncle Murray.
Murray wore a faded Almonte Fair t-shirt and a beat up St. Louis Cardinals hat with one of the most enormous beer guts I’d ever seen spilling over the belt on his green work pants.
Cousin Doug was rail thin with dirty blond hair hanging out of an AC/DC ball cap and had a cigarette in his mouth, leaning up against the counter. He looked like some kind of cartoon bird.
“Oh, that’s Bill’s friend, the other genius” said his Mother derisively.
“Jeez, we coulda used your help there young man” snickered Murray. “I guess the bats kinda spooked ya eh?”         
This was the occasion for another huge laugh which finished up with Murray saying “I don’t ‘spose I earned a late night beer now did I there Sheila?”
Sheila went to the fridge and got two cold beers, one for Murray and one for Cousin Doug, even though he couldn’t have been more than 16.
Bill asked “Where’s my beer?” and almost got slapped by his mother.
Murray took a deep slug that drained half the bottle. Cousin Doug tried to do the same and we all stood around the kitchen for a while, someone occasionally saying “Yep… Bats.”


I remember sleeping on Bill’s floor that night, shaken, bleary, half-crazy and all I could think about was getting back home once the sun came up.
His Mother drove me there chain-smoking the entire way with the windows closed, Ronnie Milsap tapes playing on the stereo. Bill sat in the front next to his Mom with his feet on the dash.
When we got to my house, I got out of the car and a cloud of smoke blew out with me. My skin looked yellow and my mouth tasted like the Pizza Pops I had for breakfast.
Without as much as a “Bye” or even a wave from Bill, they turned around in the driveway and tore the gravel up as they blasted back onto the road, leaving a dust cloud billowing into the air.
I leaned over and puked on the front lawn.
My old man walked out wondering who the hell tore up his driveway when he saw me standing there like some kind of mangy dog that wandered in from the road.
“Jesus Christ. What happened to you?”
I threw up again in front of him.
“Kim, get out here. Your son is puking on our front lawn.”
My mother rushed out, took one look at me and gasped. She threw her arms around me and said “Oh, my baby boy!” and took me inside where my brother and sisters stared at me like I was a homeless person.
My dad caught one whiff of my clothes and told me to take them off so he could burn them. But my mother wouldn’t let him. I was wearing my good jeans.
I got into the bath while my father hosed down the puke on the grass.
I tried to tell Mom all that had happened but I gave up half way through.  I just wanted to sleep.
For I had been to hell and back and heard the voice of the Devil and battled his winged creatures.
But I was still alive.
And now I was the real Heavy Metal Kid.

THE END.     


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Black Aces On Tumblr

While the blog is on hiatus this season, I'm still chasing my obsession with vintage NHL memorabilia and photographs over on the Black Aces Tumblr page. Head on over. Some old baseball stuff too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hi all,

Just a short note to let you know I haven’t been hauled away by a pack of rabid dogs or been in a Mexican prison. I’ve been hella busy with other things in life and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. That’s why I’m putting a bullet into Black Aces for now, effectively ending the run that’s been going on since 2007 and before that on the original Black Aces in 2004.

The reasons: I have a new child on the way in August and a new position at work that takes up almost all of my time that I previously had for the blog. There’s just no way I can keep it current so I’m going to “walk before they make me run”, as Keith Richards once said.

It doesn’t mean Black Aces is permanently dead. It’s just on hold until I have some real time. I don’t want people coming here looking for new content when a big deal goes down and being disappointed. If something so momentous happens that I can’t help myself but write a few hundred words, I’ll do so. Who knows, maybe in a few months I’ll get the itch again and find the time in the middle of the night with 3 cups of coffee flowing through my sleep deprived brain. If I do pick it up again, I’ll post a notice on Twitter, so go ahead and follow me there if you don’t already.

So that’s it. For now. Thanks to all my readers for sticking with the blog so long. I’ll still be around, but with a couple kids hanging off me screaming to watch Thomas The Tank Engine instead of Ottawa vs. Buffalo on a Tuesday night. That’s life I guess.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Garbage Bag Day Roundup

Winter has struck me one last cruel blow with a head cold that’s burrowed into every last crevice of my large skull, so while I’m at home catching reports on exit interviews by the Senators, I thought I’d try to offer at least a few coherent sentences.

I’ll be updating this post as the day goes on, heavy-head allowing...

Craig Anderson – So far, he’s sounded like the most disappointed Senator, although Jason Spezza was close. He mentioned that players were too often looking for others to step up and make a difference instead of doing it themselves. Sounds about right, especially when you look at how this team performed last year when Spezza, Karlsson and many others were out. Anderson also told reporters he “100%” wanted to stay in Ottawa and later on had lots of praise for rookie defenseman Cody Ceci.

In that same interview he also made a smart distinction between number of shots against compared to bonafide scoring chances against. With the rise in the mainstream of stats like Corsi and Fenwick as barometers of team play, Anderson made it clear that it’s not necessarily the amount that bothers him as a goalie... it’s the quality. Teams keep internal stats on “scoring chances” and that may be why they’ve been notoriously resistant to more general possession stats like Corsi. When it comes to these things, I’m not loyal to either side but I’m more apt to take a goalie’s word on it than anyone else’s.

Jason Spezza – Unsurprisingly, he sounded incredibly depressed about the situation, but he’s sounded like that for at least a few weeks. When teammates were spouting positives about the team coming together to finish strong, Spezza was saying stuff like “too little, too late”. Clearly, he’s taking his first season as captain hard... and he should. A lot of the organization’s hopes rest on his sometimes unstable back but he wasn’t able to deliver this team to the playoffs like his predecessor had for many seasons. Team’s have bad years, and I don’t think you can pin much of the blame on Spezza, but as captain he’s doing the right thing by being accountable, at least to the media. Yet when asked if he wanted to return, his tone of voice took on an even darker tone and he simply retorted “I do”. It was a short answer, and didn’t do much to convince me or anyone else that he’s a happy guy right now.

To me, trading Spezza won’t do this team much good in the short or the long term. Extracting that much skill out of your lineup is never a good thing. Even if they get a first-rounder back in the trade, that player won’t be on this team and contributing regularly for 3 or 4 years. They’re not going to get back a first-line centre either. Spezza is a 220 pound point-scoring machine who’s just 30 years old. The only reason you would part with a guy like that is if he wanted out himself. I’m not sure he’s at that point yet, but it could be close. Nobody gets treated worse by the fans than #19. Alfredsson went through some tough times here with the fans and perservered. I think Spezza can do the same but this is a delicate summer for both sides. Spezza may want some assurances that GM Bryan Murray is going to either re-sign Alex Hemsky or get someone similar to play with. If I had to put money on it, I think Spezza survives here and gets another contract.

Paul MacLean – When asked, both Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson had lots of praise for the suddenly beleaguered head coach. As Ian Mendes tweeted out, Karlsson said “Guys have a lot of respect for him and we like him.” Turris maintained MacLean’s message is still getting through to the guys in the room and you can only think that a lot of the players said this to Murray in their exit meeting when asked.

When Barry Trotz was let go this morning by Nashville, it decreased the job security of at least 10 coaches around the league, including, arguably, Paul MacLean’s. The one thing everybody has been harping on has been this team’s lack of defensive prowess, which is what Trotz instilled annually in Nashville as coach. Even Jacques Martin was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday saying that he’s looking for a head coaching job.

But come on... MacLean can’t really be in trouble here can he? One tough season after signing a contract extension shouldn’t be enough to make this guy homeless. Saying that, some major adjustments need to be made by this coaching staff going into next September. It might mean Murray makes a change with the assistant staff and brings in a defensive specialist (like Pittsburgh did by bringing in Martin, a move that worked incredibly well with key defensemen missing there), or it could just be a different approach from the existing group. I’m not sure the defense roster is going to change that much, particularly in the top four, so any changes will have to be through coaching.

This is just speculation but I’m guessing Murray and Melnyk were a little unhappy that MacLean didn’t have more patience with the Bobby Ryan and Spezza pairing. They spent a lot of money and prospects to bring Ryan in to play with #19 but instead spent most of the season looking at a hole on Spezza’s right side that not only hindered the offensive potential of their number one-centre, but also the team. Eventually they had to go out and get Ales Hemsky and now they have two expensive right-wingers to re-sign, Hemsky this summer.

Sure, the Spezza/Ryan pairing didn’t seem to click in the early going but Spezza himself admitted he wasn’t fully himself in October after back-surgery. There’s always going to be that “what if” feeling around those two, especially if an unhappy Spezza wants out this summer. MacLean exhibited a bit of stubbornness this season, and that might have hurt the team. His unending patience with Jared Cowen is another example, but if you look at it closely, keeping Cowen in the lineup to try and play through his struggles is in the best interests of the team long-term. They committed to Cowen in his new contract and MacLean didn’t take him off the ice, even when he was clearly hurting their chances. That’s the dilemma for coaches of young teams. You have to balance winning at all costs with development. MacLean was caught in that trap with Cowen and a few other players.

I could be dead wrong but I think MacLean is safe for now. If the team falters next season in the same way, it could turn into the “night of long knives”.

Erik Karlsson – With a hoarse, exhausted voice, Karlsson beamed positivity throughout his media availability today. I don’t know what it is, but even in the midst of disaster, this guy just comes across as incredibly likeable and easy-going. He always has the hint of a smile on his face, even when he’s tearing into a ref (which he did a bit too much of this season). There’s no need to go into his play on the ice – he’s the franchise. But what fascinates me lately is his ways off the ice. He’s a magnetic personality and never seems to carry around the gloom on his shoulders like some can when things are going south. Sure, there was that self-imposed exile from the media earlier in the season which was bizarre, but his explanations for it were disarming. He’s noticeably honest, like a lot of Swedish hockey players (ie. “probably not”) but you always walk away thinking “things aren’t that bad” after hearing him talk. Makes you think he has the personality to be the next captain of this hockey team when Spezza moves on, even if it means this summer.

Now, it’s easy to be like that when you’re never taking the brunt of fan criticism like Spezza has over his career, and thus has no reason to be guarded. Yet I think Karlsson just has that innate personality to block those things out more than Spezza does. We’ve heard a lot about how Spezza is a keen student of the game and keeps up with what the media is saying about him. That’s got to do some serious mental damage over time, and undoubtedly it has. Spezza sounds utterly defeated at the end of most seasons but manages to get his spirits back up by September. Karlsson seems like the kind of guy who wouldn't pay much attention to what the media is saying. Maybe I’m wrong, but his personality is just too fast and loose to get caught up in that.

If he can get a full summer of training and heal that Achilles injury, it’s frightening to think what this guy can do next year. And if that captain’s “C” happens to become available, I don’t think he’d hesitate for a second accepting it.

More to come throughout the day.... Feel free to respond on Twitter.