My Hockey Fight

A Cautionary Tale

The sad truth of memory is that it is fallible. It’s easily influenced by our feelings, and other things we’ve experienced, more collage than film. This is why I have a memory that I’m pretty sure also happened on Gilmore Girls.

In both my dream and on Gilmore Girls, Rory Gilmore and I went into a college laundry room, found a guy playing Belle and Sebastian, and complimented him on his music. In Rory’s version, as far as I remember, she asks the guy out, and he turns her down. I think then they later get into an argument but agree to forgive and forget when it turns out to be a big misunderstanding. In my version, he said “That’s cool, I feel like no one knows Belle and Sebastian here!” Which wasn’t true, because everyone at NYU in the 2000s knew Belle and Sebastian and every other “indie” band beloved by millions. It’s possible that none of this happened on Gilmore Girls, either. Someday I’ll rewatch that episode and see what actually happened, and maybe then I’ll be able to parse what was my memory, and what was Amy Sherman-Palladino.

What I do know is my memory is the story of Hockeyfriend. He lived in my dorm freshman year of college, and he wasn’t actually my friend. I’m not even sure what his name was. I just called him “Hockeyfriend” after someone in a Strong Bad email, because he played hockey, and it was 2005 and Homestar Runner took up a huge amount of my brain-space at the time. (Side note: I just realized the Hockeyfriend episode is #69. Nice, original Hockeyfriend.)

I hadn’t even known that NYU had a hockey team. I’ve always liked hockey, but have never followed it closely, and at NYU they often needed to remind people that we had sports teams. Once I walked into the dining hall and saw a group from NYU Athletics with free t-shirts and frisbees and water bottles asking passing students to please come watch our teams play. You know you are not at a Jock School when you have to bribe your own students to watch games. Or when you work in the athletics store in the gym for a semester and you ring up maybe five purchases, total, and are so bored at your job that you end up reading all of the nearly 500-page long copy of Mystic River someone left in a drawer. Or when the bestselling shirt from your campus bookstore is the NYU Football shirt, which is a joke because NYU doesn’t have a football team. We haven’t since World War II. NYU students loved irony far more than sports.

So jocks were not a common sight at my college. But then, I didn’t see Hockeyfriend at first. I smelled him.

Or I smelled his clothes, anyway. For more than a month, in the windowless basement of Weinstein Hall, where we did our laundry surrounded by cinderblocks and the occasional giant roach (one crawled onto my leg the first time I did laundry there, a very “Welcome to New York” moment), Hockeyfriend’s hockey uniform and gym bag were left to sit and stink. And stink they did. The gym bag smelled like an acrid mix of body odor, old shoes, and rotting garbage. It stunk up the whole basement. If anyone else was doing their laundry when you arrived, they’d greet you with “Smells like shit in here, huh?” And if someone else arrived while you were doing yours, you’d see their face contort in disgust as soon as they stepped inside. We started asking each other, “Is it still here?” and “Is it yours?” But it still was, and it never was. Eventually people started leaving handwritten notes by the bag, begging him to please just wash his clothes already, or get a locker somewhere. One girl wrote a very nice long note full of smiley faces, promising that she could help him do his laundry if he didn’t know how to do his own. But he never took her up on it, and the gym bag remained in the same place for weeks more.

Then, one day in late November, I went down to do my laundry, and was immediately hit with the stench. It had seemed to get worse every week. It was too much for me, and clearly too much for everyone else in the building. I’d had enough. I was eighteen and impulsive and made a lot of well-meaning but careless decisions. I was going to do what that smiley face girl had offered, but couldn’t deliver on: I was going to do Hockeyfriend’s laundry.

It wasn’t the first time I’d done someone else’s laundry. At my boarding school, Idyllwild Arts, we used to do each other’s laundry all the time. If someone left their clothes in the washer, we’d pay it forward, and run it in the dryer for them. That would clear up the washer for us, and what was four quarters? Sometimes we would even fold each other’s laundry. It was the kind thing to do in the girls’ dorms. I’d heard that in the younger boys’ dorms they sometimes peed in the washers and dryers, which seemed like a counterintuitive prank to me. Eventually whoever did that would have to use those washers and dryers as well, and most people don’t like their stuff to be covered in pee, even if it’s their own. We were a bit more respectful over in the girls’ dorms, though, and courtesy and sharing what money you had (granted, most students there had a lot, this was a boarding school) were seen as virtues. People were thankful for it. Surely Hockeyfriend would be, as well.

I’d never washed sports gear before, but it all seemed machine washable, even the padding. You couldn’t really lose by using cold water and a delicate cycle, could you? I put in his things, and started the machine. Then I took a piece of paper and pen from my purse (which I carried with me everywhere, even to the laundry room) and left him another note next to his now-empty gym bag: “Hi Hockeyfriend, I washed your stuff for you. You’re welcome!”

I went back to my laundry with a feeling of satisfaction. Not even two minutes later, after I had just shut the dryer door on my own load, a very tall guy with sandy brown hair and sports glasses walked in. He looked around the room, saw the empty gym bag, and looked right at me.

“Where’s my stuff?” He said.

“What?” I said.

“My stuff,” he repeated, impatiently, as if I should already know what he was talking about. “Where’s my hockey stuff?”

Oh shit. It had happened! The Godot of the Weinstein Hall laundry room had showed up. He walked over to his gym bag, picked up the note and read through it.

“Was this you?” He asked me. He already knew that it was. And he was looking at me like I’d just stolen his wallet.

“Look,” I started to say, but he cut me off.

“You washed my stuff?” Now he was looking at me like I’d stolen his wallet and peered in through his windows with binoculars.

“I did,” I admitted.

“Well, I need it!” he said, towering over me. “I have practice! I need it now!”

“Your stuff’s in…” I gestured vaguely to the washing machine. “It’s in there.”

“Get it out!” He yelled, and I immediately rushed over to the washing machine and opened it up. It wasn’t filled with water yet, so only some of his stuff was wet. Could be worse, I thought. But he clearly didn’t agree.

“Great,” he said as I handed it over, “So you washed my stuff and now I have to wear it wet to practice!”

“Well, excuse me for trying to do something nice!” I snapped. I’d been intimidated by him before, but now I was just pissed off. I was eighteen and impulsive, and when anyone was rude to me, I was rude to them right back. “Maybe if you hadn’t left your shit down here to stink up the place for two months, you wouldn’t be in this situation!”

“My roommates won’t let me keep it in my room!” He bellowed.

“That’s not my problem!” I yelled back.

“You washed my stuff!” He yelled again.

“Someone had to!” I said, and he snatched up his gym bag and stomped out the door, muttering something about me under his breath as he walked away. Probably “dumb bitch” or “crazy bitch.” I got both of those a lot in those days.

I wish I could say I never saw him again, but I did, once more. I also wish I could say we laughed it off, but we didn’t. We met again at what must have been a party — my memory has failed me here — a few months later. He was talking with a group of people, but when he saw me, he stopped and turned toward me.

“Hey!” he called. “Hey, aren’t you the girl that washed my stuff?”

“Uh… yeah,” I said, not sure where it was going.

“Yeah!” he yelled. “What the fuck was up with that?”

“You’re still mad about that?” I said. He made a move to talk to me more, but I turned away. Which, knowing myself at eighteen, is actually something of a surprise. I don’t have many other memories of my teenage self turning down a (verbal) fight, especially not with someone that rude and arrogant. But I got the sense that he wasn’t worth it. I could forgive, but apparently Hockeyfriend couldn’t. I’d let him save his aggression for the rink, where he could help lead an NYU team to yet another loss.

There’s a lesson in all this, I think. My instinct is to say “don’t help someone who doesn’t want help,” but I think that might be an oversimplification. Maybe “make sure you know what kind of help someone needs before you help them” is better. Don’t overstep, and make sure what you’re doing is for their benefit, and not just yours. Maybe the smiley face girl who left the nice note about helping him do his laundry had it right all along.

But there’s another lesson, too. Don’t be inconsiderate of other people, and try to be patient with people who are just trying to help. Because there’s a chance someone will still remember you being an asshole fifteen years later and write about it on the internet. I forgive, Hockeyfriend, but I don’t forget. I’m no Rory Gilmore.

Stuff I Did This Week: First of all, I appeared on Jenn Welch’s new podcast LadyHD! It’s a podcast by and for women with ADHD. I was diagnosed when I was 19, but have been struggling with the diagnosis and the best ways to deal with it for years now. I highly recommend LadyHD in general, and the episode I did is a great insight into the way my mind works.

I also narrated a short story audiobook! It’s called The Pet, and I loved recording it! Now, some of the things I do voiceover for are safe for work and safe for children, but The Pet is not one of those. This is very much an 18+ story about love, sex, betrayal, adventure, and cats. If that sounds good to you, you can listen to it here!

Speaking of things are also not for kids, I did a voice on the cult adult animation favorite Helluva Boss! You can watch it now on YouTube! Be forewarned, there’s a lot of animated sex, violence, and language — this is a show that takes place in Hell, after all. But I love supporting independent animation, and it’s always fun to play a demon.

Fake BBC Show of the Week: Nothing But Toast and Flora