Where in the World is Burghy?


sports illustrated picture burghy (1)


These are the covers of the current Sports Illustrated that are in my house.  What do you notice about these covers?  Yep, that woman is grabbing her boobs and looks naked, but no, that’s not what I wanted you to notice. Well, not exactly.  What I wanted you to notice is that only two of those eight covers are of women, and out of those two women, only one is dressed. What I extrapolate from this is that women are not as valued as men in the sports industry, in society, and in Plattsburgh, our local microcosm of society.  Never has this been more apparent to me than after going to the poorly attended (and poorly advertised) Women’s Ice Hockey National Championship Celebration at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Oh, and can you find Burghy, SUNY Plattsburgh’s mascot, in the picture?

First of all, let me tell you that I know very little about sports in general.  Growing up, I was the next-to-last kid picked to be on a team. In college (SUNY Plattsburgh), I never went to any sporting events, but I would see Burghy around campus..  My favorite baseball team is Boston (because my dad is a Red Sox fan), but I can’t name more than 5 or 6 players after 1976.  I guess I didn’t really start paying attention to sports or attend any sporting events until I became a college English teacher.

My first year teaching, some of my students were on the Women’s Soccer team at Clinton Community College.  They asked me if I’d go to a game.  I thought it would be a fun outing for my three young children, and I could support my student athletes, so to the game we went.  What better idea than take my kids outside, let them run off their energy, and cheer on my students? I think the CCC Women’s team did very well that season. Years later, I ran into one of the soccer athletes at a social gathering, and she expressed how happy she was to see me at her games.  She mentioned that having her professors go to the games and support the team made her years at CCC that much more meaningful.

Since that first experience, I have attended Men’s and Women’s soccer, basketball, and hockey games at CCC and SUNY Plattsburgh. I remember watching the SUNY Plattsburgh Men’s soccer team play a few years ago,  while my kids chased our dog around the outskirts of the field at the Field House.  The fans at most of the games we attended were pretty much the same, with the blaring exception of hockey. The Men’s Cardinal Hockey team has many more fans and more collegiate support (my personal opinion, obviously) than the Women’s, and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

My son, Jonathan’s, favorite part of going to the Men’s hockey game was to see Burghy and eat the huge chocolate chip cookies.  After waiting on line for tickets (we learned to get there early), we’d get our cookies and drinks, sit on the hard wooden benches, and wait for the show to start.  Rock and roll blasted from the speakers, the lights went out, the strobe light and colored lights flashed and spun on the ice, and Burghy would emerge on the ice, skating and waving.  Then the game would start.  Players would get smashed into the plexiglass barriers, whistles would sound, and the fans would chant and stomp their feet in support of the male Cardinals.  Very few seats were empty in the arena.  What a fun Saturday night!


I haven’t gone to a Men’s game in a few years, but I know that tickets are now six dollars, that Burghy still skates and waves, that the line is out the door to get into a game, and the cookies are still good.  The arena has been updated, and many fans religiously attend games to support the athletes.  For many families, watching the Men’s Hockey team play has become a tradition and a great way to spend a Saturday night.

For the past few years, I’ve had more hockey players in my classes than from other sports, although the basketball team players are starting to become a presence, (next semester I’ll have to start going to both sports).  I had never attended a Women’s Hockey game, so Tim suggested we go.  He thought it would be a fun date, and he said the women were talented players.

The first Saturday we go, it’s an afternoon game.  Okay, well the Men’s team gets the ice that Saturday night.  Tim and I go right up to the ticket booth where there is a woman just finishing up buying two tickets.  She turns to her companion and says, “They’re charging two dollars to get in now.  Maybe more people will want to see them now that they’re charging admission; after all,  they’re winning every game!”  Hmmm…..

Tim and I get some drinks and snacks and easily find an empty, plastic seat.  To our left is a small student cheering section, dressed in black, red, and white.  They seem quite pumped up!  Good!  I wait for the lights to dim.  Hey, where’s Burghy?  In the regular arena lights, the umpires skate out and check the goal nets.  Then the announcer introduces both teams.  No light show; no Burghy.  Hmmm.  Then the game begins.

Just like the men’s team, these women are hungry for a win.  They fiercely go after the puck, slam into each other, and do all those cool hockey things.  There’s penalties on both sides for checking.  The ladies are ruthless, and they don’t let the opposing team score.  Between plays, I look around the half-empty arena.  As much fun as I’m having, I can’t help wonder why there aren’t more fans.  After the victorious ladies leave the ice, Tim and I leave the arena.  There is a long line of fans waiting to enter to see the Men play.  Suddenly a T-shirt and memorabilia kiosk has appeared in front of the entrance.  There’s excitement in the air.  I leave thinking “Why aren’t these people watching the women play?”  (BTW- the men lost the game that night.)  For the next few weeks, we attended the rest of the regular season, and then the ECAC and NCAA championships.  I’m not sure where Burghy was. Maybe he was writing an essay  for classes all those days, and couldn’t watch the Lady Cards dominate the ice.

shot on goal

Last Tuesday, Tim and I attended the celebration of the Ladies winning the NCAA Championship, the third time in a row. There were maybe a couple hundred fans there, if that.  Know how I knew about the celebration?  My student hockey athletes told me in class.  The day of the celebration, WPTZ announced it on the evening news, stating that the event would take place in an hour.  I also got a faculty digest email informing the campus community of the event.  No wonder not many people went. I wonder how much publicity the Men’s Hockey team would’ve gotten, had they won, which they haven’t done since 2001, but hey, at least they have Burghy!

But you know who did go?  The hard-working athletes who deserved the recognition.  The president of the college went.  The mayor of Plattsburgh went.  The loyal fans of the players went, and we went.  Oh, and Burghy was there, finally!  I hope the Lady Cardinals know that they have fans out there who support them and value all the hard work and dedication they put into this season.  Congrats to you!

The new Sports Illustrated came in the mail today.  Know who was on the cover?  The men’s Villanova basketball team was on the cover, not the UConn women’s team.  In the future, I hope media outlets like Sports Illustrated and WPTZ will give women’s teams more exposure.  I also hope that Burghy will find time out of his busy schedule to support the Lady Cardinals.

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A Saturday Night

Bertrand Russell said there were three passions that ruled his life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and the unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. How right that man was about all of humanity, and me, and the price of my knowledge? $6.48 plus the tip, and a hangover.

It was 5:30 on a Saturday night. I packed my notebook and pen in my purse and headed to a local restaurant. I walked, knowing that I was going for a drink, and because the evening was perfect for a walk. It was warm, sunny, and I wanted to spend an evening without technology. I know, crazy, right? But how else can I experience life- others’ lives- if I have my nose in a phone or laptop?

I found a spot at the end of the bar, took out my notebook and pen, and looked at the others seated at the bar while I waited for the bartender to bring me a house margarita on the rocks, with salt (as a single mom, I cannot afford the good stuff). At the other end of the bar, sat a young married couple, perhaps married less than three years. Next to them sat another couple , possibly in their mid-thirties; then a forty-ish woman with long, curly burnt-oatmeal colored hair; next to her was a couple in their 20’s , not married, and then, me. A relatively good sampling of human life out-and-about on a Saturday night. Ah, and here’s my drink. Mmmm… just the right amount of tequila and lime.

I take a sip and begin observing the first couple. The husband’s right arm is in a sling and his wedding ring caught the light blinding me for a moment. His wife , an Asian woman with long black hair and a cellphone attached to her right hand, acknowledges his presence every once in awhile with a smile and nod in his direction when he speaks to her, then takes a bite of food, and goes back to her phone. Ahh, young love, in the stage of taking love for granted. Good luck, and I wish you well in your future suffering. I see the signs.

Next to them is the couple in their thirties. They talk together, laugh, and occasionally the man brushes a strand of hair out of her face. She takes a bite of food, a big bite, and then brushes his thigh with her hand.   Then I see her take her phone out of her purse , do a quick glance at the time, and then bury the phone back in her purse. Yep. They have young kids who are with a baby-sitter. They probably have an hour or two left to pretend they are carefree, before they go home and pass out instead of making love. They found more love than they know what to do with. I smile , and suck deeply at my straw-filled word-making liquid.

The woman is next. I notice her arms. They are long and sinewy, like over-grown roots to a hedge bush outside an abandoned, foreclosed four-bedroom home. She’s not from the area as she’s asking the bartender where the “happening” place is in Plattsburgh. Ha. The bartender, a short, sweaty bald man, looks helplessly around, and vaguely points in two directions at once. For a moment, he reminds me of The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz talking with a lost Dorothy, except Dorothy isn’t fourteen, she’s forty, and not cute anymore. She doesn’t smile either. I pity her hunger. Eventually, she addresses the young woman next to her. I take another drink of my now watered- down margarita.

The two people between us are in their mid-twenties. I think they’ve been dating awhile . I’ve noticed that she has been giving him little bites of food throughout their meal. He dismissively takes the food from her proffered fork. He then chews, smiles at her, glances at his shoes, and then wipes his mouth with his napkin. Yeah, he’s bored, and he’s trying to find a way to break up with her, but he doesn’t know how. He chugs his beer, and asks the bartender for a refill. Sam Adams. Hipster. I take his cue, and take another sip. Then I hear laughter. Wait. He’s smiling at the wall, and laughing, and she’s looking at his face. He wants to get laid. Get laid, and then break up.

Those people have left the bar, and have been replaced by other people, with other stories. Three new people sit down next to me, a couple in their early 50’s with their newly 21-year-old daughter. I know them . We exchange pleasantries, and they look at my pen and notebook, and my singledom is obviously apparent. “Oh, she teaches English, and she’s working on a short story” is what she says to her daughter and husband. I smile, suck down the rest of my watery margarita, pack up my belongings, and leave.

Of course, I stop elsewhere on my way home, and I know I will get a hangover, but I like observing people because they, as well as I, want love, knowledge, and they pity suffering. All those people in that restaurant will find love, and knowledge, and they will find suffering. It’s part of life, and it’s sometimes unbearably and beautifully painful. And, as life would have it, I walked home alone, with my pen and notebook, in the rain.

Mom or Black Widow? Maybe both!

471359_3836720277415_1255246137_oIn May of 2012, I, at 46 years old, went out in public dressed as Black Widow, much to the horror of my children. “Mom, really? You’re not 20 ya know, you’re middle aged, and you’re dressing up as a superhero!” At the time, it was a fun thing to do with friends, kinda daring and off-the-wall, and it made me happy. What I really didn’t know then, was that part of me did become the Black Widow, or, rather, then I began to realize that I was, indeed, a dark, vodka-swirling, Russian (okay, I’m German, but I have Russian friends…) spy who had red in her ledger.

I think that was a turning point for me. I can be a superhero- not in the fact that I will avenge the world, but I can avenge MY world. Like all heroes, all humans in real life, I have to prove my worth, I have to wipe the red from my ledger, I have to fight a dragon (overcome a fear- you know, dragons have feelings too and aren’t all bad beings), sacrifice a piece of myself to achieve a greater good, and in the end, become the hero I was meant to be. No hero is perfect; if a hero starts out perfect or ends up perfect, that person is no hero: that person is not even human.

It’s been a long journey for me. One that I am still traveling, and a journey that will have more battles for me, but I can say that I have fought the biggest dragon in my life lately, and although I have some battle scars, I believe I have emerged a better person in the end. I have wiped most of the red from my ledger.

A friend of mine recently said he was scrolling through his phone contacts and said he came across “Black Widow” and he couldn’t remember why he had that in there. Then he realized it was my number, and decided to keep it listed as Black Widow. Oh, he thinks he’s the Hulk.. Okay, so, I have some weird, possibly delusional friends, but if I’m Black Widow, why can’t he really be the Hulk??

It may be very strange to some that a middle-aged woman would dress up in a superhero costume when it’s not even Halloween, but I’m thankful I did. In secret, I still put on my bullet bracelet when I’m feeling weak or vulnerable, and it helps. I CAN be a hero in my own world, and I shouldn’t be ashamed to be me.

We all are heroes by making right decisions, and if we are parents, we all start out being our child’s first and foremost hero. I’m sure I’m no longer my children’s hero, as they’re teenagers now, and are quite embarrassed by my strange antics, but maybe someday in the future they will look back and think, “Ya know, mom wasn’t crazy after all. She really became her own hero and that was really badass of her!”

After all, there’s always hope.

I doubt I’ll ever dress as Black Widow again, but the costume is hanging in my closet, and my bullet bracelets are in my underwear drawer, if ever the need arises for me to “suit up” again and avenge some wrong in the world, my world. For now, I think I’ll just pour myself a vodka and blend into the background as a generic woman and mom, live an average life, and be “normal.” After all, that is the perfect backdrop for a spy: blend into your surroundings, and don’t get noticed.
I found my inner superhero. Which superhero are you?

Three Sisters

“Robin Williams is dead” was the text my daughter sent me. At first, I didn’t feel much sadness. I was saddened because a human life was lost, but that was about it.

Like many my age, I grew up with Robin Williams. I watched Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, and watched and loved many of his movies. In fact, I show Dead Poet’s Society the first few days of class to make the point that students’ words and ideas CAN change the world, even if it’s their own world. And, being one who teaches English, I can’t help but fantasize that perhaps, one day, a student would refer to me as “O Captain My Captain.” But, I digress.

Then the day after he died, I learned what the world knew: he committed suicide and he battled severe depression. Oh boy, THAT hit home. I felt a connection with a man I only knew through a movie or tv screen. He, a man whose job it was to make people laugh, struggled with the same demons I do.

Depression. A very vocal, insistent, invisible demon that with therapy and sometimes medicine, her voice can become mere background white noise and manageable, but she never goes away. Depression doesn’t like to be ignored either. When ignored too long, she will demand my attention by overtaking my mind and body with a vengeance, usually a surprise visit at the most inopportune time, like in the middle of a movie, or in the middle of the night, or right before I am about to teach a class. She really is a bitch. I have no choice but to let her do her worst, and then I have to start training her all over again.

Usually depression doesn’t come alone. Many who deal with depression, also have to deal with her two sisters: Anxiety and Addiction. Like the three fates, or Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, the main job of these three is to stop their victim from enjoying life and prolonged happiness in some way. One sister even holds a pair of scissors, letting the victim know that SHE is in control of fate. What these three bitches do is cast an ominous cloud over the victim’s entire life. Luckily, for me, the third fate has kept her distance, possibly waiting to pounce at a later date, like a cat toying with a mouse.

Because this illness is invisible, even the most well-meaning person usually cannot fathom that depression is, in fact, an illness. Many of my friends and family have told me “Get over it,” or “Stop being lazy; get your ass up!” or even, “You can’t be depressed. Every time I see you, you’re always smiling!” How do I even begin to explain that just opening my eyes sometimes is a herculean task? That, at times, having the will to live was almost out of reach for me? How do I explain to a person who doesn’t believe in psychiatric (gasp!!!) help that it is occasionally a necessity for me? “Oh, stop being weak! I never needed any ‘help,’ why would you?!?”

I hope that Robin Williams’ tragic end to his life will have a silver lining. I hope that people will realize that depression, and mental illness in general, is very REAL, and has the potential to be very deadly. Thank you, O Captain My Captain, for your many years of making me FEEL and laugh through your brilliant performances. May the light you brought to so many others continue to shine on in your memory. And to you, you three sisters, I work everyday to keep your noise down, and your scissors sheathed. And to your ominous forebodings , I say “Nanu nanu!” I see the fates for who they are, and I deal with them in the best way I can. Laughter and love shall always conquer evil.