Setting Brushfires, One Mario Lemieux Fan At A Time
April 18, 2011
By J.J. Jackson
Little did I realize two weeks ago when my wife, love of my life, bought me for my birthday a replica of Mario Lemieux’s rookie season sweater that it would be such an opportunity for me to talk to people. Lemieux, unlike other hockey greats, racked up Hall of Fame numbers while playing for perpetually bad teams early in his career, suffering from chronic back problems so bad that other people had to lace up his skates for him as well as also battling cancer. You can argue all you want about who the greatest hockey player of all time is. But when you look at what Lemieux did, especially in an era where clutching and grabbing were not only allowed but highly encouraged, there is little doubt. And most Pittsburghers know this.
Anyway, back to the jersey. I love that darn jersey. But I was a little taken aback the first day I wore it. In one store alone I was bothered three times in very short order. At Sam’s Club, while I was shopping, several people simply could not wait to tell me how much they liked the jersey. I said “thanks” to each of them, told them it was a gift, and promptly went back to comparing bulk quantities of bacon, baby wipes and strawberries. I was somewhat amazed at how easy it was to get complete strangers to strike up a conversation with me about something so, what I considered, menial as my new Lemieux jersey. But Pittsburghers do love Mario. I have to admit that. So I guess they thought that maybe, just maybe, I would engage them in deeper, more meaningful conversation about hockey’s greatest player ever.
Then it happened again. It was the fourth time in the span of a little less than an hour. One lady complimented me on my attire. I thanked her, told her it was a gift and went back to studying the pros and cons of select-a-size paper towels versus regular, run-of-the-mill sized ones. But she wanted a deeper discussion and she was not going to stop until she got one. She insisted on querying me further. “He was the greatest player ever,” she said. I supposed I rolled my eyes. Could not she see I was busy trying to figure out how to get the best bang for my spill cleaning buck?
“Yes, I think he was,” I responded.
Chirpily she went on, “He was much better than Gretzky don’t you think?”
I thought my last answer kind of meant that but obviously I had to clarify. “I said I thought he was the greatest ever so that would imply that, yes.” She did not get the hint.
“I saw him play once.”
“That’s nice.” Snarkily, I thought to myself that half of Pittsburgh probably had seen him play in person. Did she think she was special?
“Do you think Sidney Crosby is as good as Mario?” She incessantly kept up the questions.
I decided to change the topic. I did this mostly because she had annoyed me at this point. My attention was clearly not going to be on the important task at hand as long as she remained yapping in my ear. But I also did this because I wanted to see if this lady had any other opinions and if they were on things more important than local sports heroes. “What do you think about the size of the national debt?” I quickly asked.
She looked stunned.
I kept talking. “I personally think it is pretty bad. Yeah, I’ve got two small children at home. Did you know that right now they owe about forty to fifty thousand dollars each just to pay their share for all the rampant spending our government has engaged in?”
That must have thrown her for too much of a loop because she immediately turned and walked away. Rudely too! She did not even say goodbye.
An hour later, in the Home Depot, I was approached by another obvious Pittsburgh Penguins and Mario Lemieux fan. I say obvious because without even introducing himself he proceeded to invade my personal space and touched the jersey without even asking. He said, “Cool shirt dude! Where’d you get it? I love Mario!”
“It was a gift,” I said and tried to turn my attention back to finding a couple straight two by four studs. But this man kept trying to talk to me. So I tried the same tactic as before. I asked him, “Yeah, you know I’m tired of the federal government trying to control my life from Washington, DC. Don’t you think that we, the people, know better what’s best for us?”
No response came. The man just wandered off once the conversation turned away from hockey. Possibly he sought a bright, shiny object to stare at. He did give me a weird look however. You know, one like I had an extra head sprouting out of my shoulders or something else equally freaky?
It was then that I knew I had found a way to keep people from bothering me. And maybe, I thought, I was making them think about things that they were not predisposed to think of. I mean, I understand that this time of year is very important to us hockey fans with the regular season winding down and the playoffs about to begin and all. But still, there are other things to worry about besides where I got my obviously attention-getting jersey. I mean seriously, anyone here ever hear of the internet? How about Google?
Whether these people agreed with me or not did not matter to me. The point was to try and plant what Samuel Adams once called, “brushfires in the people’s minds,” to help get Americans thinking about important issues of the day. Although when Mr. Adams said such and envisioned the “irate, tireless minority,” doing this sort of thing, I sincerely doubt he foresaw a man wearing a black and gold hockey sweater emblazoned with a skating penguin on it.
But nonetheless, this strategy is working well for me. I like my privacy. I do not like people just coming up to me in the middle of stores while I am obviously doing something else and trying to engage me in conversation. Much less, I do not like them touching me. And considering that I often have one or two small kids in tow, there are no shortage of people out there that just have to use them as an excuse to engage me in mindless conversation about how “cute” they are or about their own children/grandchildren. I do not know you. Leave me alone.
A man approached me in JC Penny and complimented my attire while I was wearing the jersey. I said, “Don’t you agree that federal income tax rates are too high? I mean, after all Jesus only wants 10% right?” He walked away, leaving me to my shopping.
A woman walked up to me at Giant Eagle. She told me how much she loved the Lemieux sweater. “It sure would be nice if we could balance our federal budget and stop selling our debt to China,” I replied. She immediately left me alone.
Again in Giant Eagle, shopping for groceries, another man just had to profess how much he loved Mario to me. He was wearing a cap proudly proclaiming him as a member of one of the local unions. I smiled. This was too easy. I immediately said, “Labor unions really have to get over this fascination that they are entitled to whatever they want and that they have the right to tell business owners how to run their operations “or else.” Don’t you agree?” He could not get away from me fast enough, running into another woman’s shopping cart as he fled the scene.
Yes, I can now shop in peace. That is now that I know that people, those who find the stats and playing career of Mario Lemieux something they just have to discuss with a complete stranger, are not interested in talking politics that is. All I have to turn the topic towards the hot button political issues of the day. And maybe, just maybe, that little brushfire I start in their mind might rage.
But somehow I suspect most of them will rush to quench the flame as quickly as possible. Cannot think too hard after all now, can we?