Face off

There is a long-standing tradition in Boston for the TD Garden to host both a Bruins and a Celtics game on Black Friday. J and I have gone to Black Friday Bruins games in the past, with the above photo coming from 2009. But today for the first time, we went to both games, watching the Celtics lose in the afternoon and the Bruins clinch a sudden-death overtime win in the evening. In between games, while the Garden crew scrambled to pull up the basketball parquet and prep the ice beneath, J and I walked to Quincy Market, where we had dinner and admired Christmas lights with throngs of Black Friday shoppers.

This is my (belated) Day Twenty-Eight contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Two teams, one anthem

Later this afternoon, J and I are going to Boston College for a men’s hockey game. J and I used to be in the habit of going to Bruins games on Black Friday, as the Bruins typically have a matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving, when both J and I are off work. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, however, their ticket prices skyrocketed, so now we go to far fewer professional hockey games.

Face-off

Fortunately, Boston College is within (healthy) walking distance of our house, and BC hasn’t raised ticket prices after winning three national championships in the past five years. Attending a college hockey game is a different, more “family friendly,” experience than attending a professional hockey game. There’s no alcohol served at college games, so you’re far less likely to sit next to drunk and rowdy fans; instead, BC hockey games tend to attract parents shepherding flocks of hockey-crazy kids whose hooligan antics are more likely fueled by sugar and pent-up energy than anything alcoholic.

Opening face-off

On the ice, college hockey games feature far fewer fights than in the pros: although the competition gets just as heated, college players who fight get tossed from the game rather than simply spending five minutes in the penalty box. As much as I appreciate the unwritten rules of professional hockey fights, I also appreciate the calmer, more “focused” energy apparent at college hockey games. At a professional game, you get the sense that a good number of the fans are more interested in drinking and watching fights than they are in following the actual game. At college hockey games, on the other hand, you’ll often encounter hockey parents who use the game as a teachable moment, coaching their kids on how to apply in their own games the techniques they see on the ice.

Baldwin's bunch

BC’s mascot, Baldwin, also apparently sees home hockey games as a good change to mingle with young hockey fans, both on and off the ice. On a day typically devoted to shopping outings that occasionally turn violent, it seems downright wholesome to spend the afternoon watching a fierce but family-friendly competition that ends in handshakes.

Good game!

The photos illustrating today’s post come from a February, 2009 game against the University of Massachusetts. This is my Day 29 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Heels over head

Yesterday was Black Friday, so while the rest of the world was shopping, J and I went to an afternoon Bruins game, as we have in the past. The first three Bruins games we’ve been to this season have all been on Saturday nights, so yesterday’s afternoon game gave us our first daytime chance to see (and photograph) the new statue of Bobby Orr that commemorates his headlong lunge across the Boston Garden ice after scoring the Bruins’ Stanley Cup-winning goal on May 10, 1970.

Cantilevered

For most consumers, Black Friday marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, and today at lunch, J and I watched the owners of our favorite pub as they put up this year’s Christmas wreaths and lights. J and I don’t do much Christmas shopping, however. For the past several years, we’ve earmarked our 10-game package of Bruins tickets as our mutual birthday and Christmas gifts to one another, and my nephews and niece are old enough that gift cards are more appropriate than toys. What few gifts J and I need to buy, we either buy online or at charity fundraisers, giving us little reason to venture into crowded malls. Instead of seeing Black Friday as the start of the retail shopping season, J and I welcome it as the start of something else entirely: the beginning of Double-Tipping Month.

Double-Tipping Month is inspired by J’s experience working as a busboy at an Italian restaurant when he was in college. During December, many of the restaurant’s regular customers would spread holiday cheer by tipping their waitstaff and busboys extra generously, and J always remembered the good-will this inspired. Most of the year, working at a restaurant is a thankless job: customers either ignore you or show you little courtesy, assuming your status as the “hired help” means they can treat you like servants. Because of his vivid memories of what it was like to be treated like a second-class citizen by restaurant patrons who thought they were better than their servers, J has always been kind to waiters, waitresses, and restaurant workers, showing them common courtesy and tipping them decently.

Expressive

Over the years I’ve known J, Double-Tipping Month has grown from an informal attempt to tip generously during the month of December to an official commitment to tip double our usual rate from Black Friday through New Year’s Day: just over a month. J and I don’t eat out often, and we don’t typically go to fancy, expensive places: most weekends, we go to a nearby Irish pub for lunch on Saturdays and our neighborhood deli for brunch on Sundays. In both cases, our check usually comes to about $25, so Double-Tipping Month means we typically leave a $10 tip in place of $5. The expense of Double-Tipping Month, in other words, is minimal to us…but it makes a huge difference, it seems, to our waitstaff, who respond to a double-tip as if J and I had just made their day.

Over the years of our frequenting the same Irish pub and neighborhood deli, Double-Tip Month has begun to earn J and me some notoriety. One December morning several years ago, I rounded up when calculating the double-tip on our usual Sunday brunch, adding a few extra bucks to the already-doubled amount since I didn’t have exact change…and that particular waitress has been particularly nice to J and me ever since, apparently remembering small considerations. “They tip double in December,” J and I once heard her whisper to a new waitress one Sunday, thinking we were out of earshot, “and they try to give you the exact amount, so you don’t have to make change.” When she saw J and I were getting up to leave, this same waitress continued talking to the new girl: “They’re just what you want in customers: so nice and so easy!” When you work a backbreaking, often-thankless job, it takes far less than a Stanley Cup-winning goal to make you want to leap headlong; sometimes just some seasonal courtesy is enough.

Golden glow

Yesterday afternoon, before driving to a Thanksgiving potluck with friends, J and I took a walk around his golden-leafy neighborhood. “Everyone goes walking on Thanksgiving,” J noted, “even if they don’t walk any other day in the year.” He was right. On a typical day in Newton, you’ll see people walking dogs, people jogging singly or in pairs, and an occasional couple, walking. But yesterday it was balmy and beautiful–warm enough for several convertible-owners to drive with their tops down–and we saw several loose clusters of people walking the streets without dogs or exercise togs: just walking. Apparently Thanksgiving is a day when you gather with family, eat inordinate amounts of food, and then spend time engaging in the simple activities (such as walking) you wish you took the time for the rest of the year.

Japanese maple leaves on ground cover

J and I spend much of our time together walking, even when it’s not Thanksgiving. Yesterday J mapped a two-mile afternoon walk for us to take; last weekend, we walked four miles on Sunday and a total of twelve miles between Thursday night and Monday morning. Some people spend Thanksgiving watching the Macy’s parade on TV; others watch football games. On Thanksgiving like other days, J and I walk because it’s something we enjoy: it’s good for you, it costs nothing, and it’s a leisurely way to spend time together, with or without dogs or cameras. If you live in a golden-leafy neighborhood with plenty of pretty, safe streets to stroll, why wouldn’t you spend as much time as you are able ambling?

Falling and fallen

And yet, not everyone lives to walk: walking, after all, is slow-paced and lacks the thrills and chills of, say, drag-racing. Why walk when you can run, roller-blade, bike, or skateboard? Why walk when you can sleep, watch TV, or shop? Every time I visit my parents in Ohio, my mom and I go walking together; my dad prefers bench-sitting to walking, and “walking the dog” always provides my mom and me with ample excuse to escape. “Why aren’t there more people out here,” my mom will ask, gesturing toward almost-empty paths in the close-to-home suburban parks we explore whenever I go home. “They put in all these nice walking trails, and people are too busy watching TV, playing video games, or going to movies to find time for a walk.”

I never know how to answer my mom’s rhetorical question since it demands I speak for the “they” who do not walk, and how can I understand “their” motives? “Why do people spend good money,” my mom will ask, “to sit inside watching some stupid movie when they can be out walking?” At this point in the conversation, Reggie is typically tugging his leash and I’m pulled in two directions, part of me following the path of conversation and another part of me paying attention to the literal path ahead of me. “I don’t know,” I’ll admit. “Some people like movies, and some people like walking. To each his own, you know?”

Old man's beard

This morning, I went to Zen practice in Lexington for the first time in months. Fall semester has been a busy time: I’m teaching what amounts to a double course-load at several schools, in October there were the late nights and lost sleep of a Red Sox championship run, and by November a teaching overload necessarily results in grading gridlock. At some point you begin to cut yourself slack by replacing things you’d like to do with the things you must do. “In December, after the semester is over,” you tell yourself, “I’ll start writing, practicing, and working out again.” Next semester, you tell yourself, your teaching load will be lighter, and there will be more time for everything you’ve been postponing…if only you can get to the end of this hectic time.

Confused flower

If it weren’t for Reggie and J, I suppose I’d have postponed walking these past months, too, figuring I didn’t have time. And if it weren’t from an email last week from Zen Master Bon Haeng (aka Mark Houghton) asking someone to lead practice today, I suppose I’d have slept in this morning. But knowing that ZM Mark is in Korea and needed someone to lead practice–knowing that it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to drag myself out of bed, drive the 15 minutes or so from Newton to Lexington, and have the satisfaction of knowing I’d both practiced and helped Mark out by covering practice for him–I responded to the email. “No problem: I’ll be there. Have a good, safe trip!”

Japanese maple leaves & samara

And so this morning, I got up at 5:30 to crawl into meditation clothes, drive the 15 minutes or so from Newton to Lexington, and make sure the lights were on when other folks arrived for practice. About 95 percent of Zen practice is simply showing up, and the other 5 percent is simply staying. On Black Friday, when other folks dragged themselves out of bed to drive to malls and stores offering door-buster bargains, I tried to find no better deal than my own breath, attentively watched. There will be time in December to catch up with writing, practicing, and working out; there will be time, come Cyber Monday, to shop. But this morning, thoughts of all those classes headed into their final weeks were shoved to the back-burner, just as they are when J and I stroll the streets in our golden-leafy neighborhood. Some people like to watch movies, and others like to walk. Some people like to shop for door-buster bargains; others choose to spend the morning after Thanksgiving meditating. To each his own, you know?