From the rink to the poorhouse

EARL MCRAE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

A police car sped by The Mission For Men on Waller St., its red roof light flashing. "Go. Sens. Go," shouted Skippy from Fredericton, Winnipeg, Moose Jaw, Regina, Montreal, Kenora, Halifax, Sault Ste. Marie, Victoria, Charlottetown, and Ottawa. "See? Even the cops are making a statement."

He lifted his thumb into the sunlight. "Go. Sens. Go. Cops for Ottawa." And laughed.

They told me at The Mission I should talk to Skippy. "Skippy's the biggest Senators fan you'll ever meet. He's so crazy over the Senators, he's nuts. You won't be able to shut him up."

Skippy was on a bench outside, having a smoke. "I'm 69 so I figure I've smoked millions of fags. Good thing I go around bumming them. At the goddamn price today, I'd be in the poor house."

Except that he is in the poor house. A room he shares with a buddy five blocks away. Skippy's been in the poor house in different cities and towns since he was 18.

He's been in Ottawa dozens of times. He's stayed at The Mission but prefers not to because "they kick you out of your room during the day, you can only get back in to sleep at night. How can I listen to the sports? In the room where I'm living, I got a radio, eh? I can lie down and listen to the sports all day if I want."

When Skippy's in Ottawa, he comes to The Mission in the morning for the breakfast. "They feed you like a goddamn king." He hangs around The Mission because he has friends there, some he knows from travelling the country. He said he'll be leaving Ottawa today.

"I'm hitch-hiking to Windsor. I was going to stick around for the Senators coming back, but what the hell, the only way I'd get into the game is to sneak in. Hockey's all for the rich today."

Skippy watched the first game of the Stanley Cup final on the TV in the lounge of The Mission. It was packed with poor people like him. "I nearly died when Ottawa lost. I love that team. I'm their biggest fan in the world, I don't care what you say. They're all rich guys and I'm what you'd call a bum, but I still love them. I've even been in fist fights over them."

His love for the Senators began when he was down and out in Regina. "They'd just come into the league, eh? They couldn't win nothing. They were a joke. They got no respect. They were always the underdogs and I guess that's what I identified with. That, and I just always loved hockey."

Had circumstances been different, Skippy says he could have made the NHL.

"When I was 12, I was the best player you ever seen. Outdoors, eh? No organized stuff like these kids have it today, just a bunch of kids going out and playing on the river when it freezed up. You ask anybody who saw me. If I'd been born later and things'd worked out, I could of played with the Senators."

He wouldn't say what things didn't work out, but hinted at it. "My old man was a drunk. He'd get paid and then go to the bar and drink up the pay cheque. My mother and him fought all the time. One time, he told me he was going to take me out after work and buy me a hockey stick and skates of my own. I used my older brother's stuff, eh? The skates were way too big.

"I waited on the verandah for my old man to come, but he never showed up. He went out drinking and there went the pay cheque. We couldn't even pay the rent. That's when my mother had enough. She left him. She moved me and my brother to Winnipeg. We stayed with her brother and his wife for awhile until she got a job. My old man didn't give a s--t. We were still poor, but at least he was out of our life. I have no idea if the bastard's dead or alive."

MORE DUES TO PAY

Skippy bummed a cigarette off someone. And then, half serious: "You know what? Maybe I'll hitch-hike to Anaheim instead and try and sneak into the next game there. The Senators need me, eh? As much as it kills me, the series is going to end out there with the Ducks winning. This isn't Ottawa's year yet. They got more dues to pay. It's the way it is in life, eh?"

As I left The Mission, I bumped into Rick The Artist. He lives at The Mission. He was kneeling in the hot sun, his canvas laid out on the sidewalk, painting. He smiled when I told him about Skippy and his Senators passion. "This is mine," he said, applying oils to his work. A bright lilac tree surrounded by a dark, mean sky. Hope. Despair.


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