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Fly into Logan, pick up my bags, hail a cab. Cabbies are either loquacious or silent; today the man wants to talk. "Where are you from?" he asks, and after I tell him he replies, "I'm from Wellesley. We talk of the differences in our hometowns, Norwood a blue-collar, working-class town where Wellesley tends toward a wealthier, white-collar environment. I think a moment, and remember the only guy I ever knew from Wellesley, Massachusetts.
"Do you know Jeff McReynolds?"
I am always writing down phrases and expressions that strike me as off-beat or unique for use in my writing. Experiences also find their way into my books. I have been ejected from a hockey game for lying, I have received a penalty for being kissed while standing at center ice, awaiting a faceoff. I once sat in a Boston Garden dressing room next to the quietest teammate imaginable, and seen him jump up between periods of the Massachusetts State Final game and shout it up, much to my other teammate's astonishment. He then plopped down next to me, leaned close and whispered, "Pretty good, huh?" These stories all found their way into my novel Dawson City Seven. But my favorite story gleaned from my long-past hockey experiences occurred far from the ice, in the isolated western Massachusetts town of Palmer.
It seems a lifetime ago, during the winter of 72-73. We were freshmen at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Jeff McReynolds was a goalie, and I a forward on the Junior Varsity hockey team. He was clean-cut and polite, I was the terror of the 20th floor, John Adams. We had a game scheduled against Harvard on a Saturday afternoon, but, wishing to hitch-hike home a day early to see our girlfriends, we got permission to meet the team in Cambridge instead of taking the bus.
We made it to Palmer, where Route 9 connects to the Massachusetts Turnpike. But as we stood by the interchange, our thumbs extended to the dwindling traffic, the snow began to fall. And fall. Neither of us had bothered to listen to a weather report. We soon found ourselves alone on the roadside, the traffic non-existent in the developing blizzard. Hours later, shivering in the blowing cold, a cop pulled alongside us and heard our dilemma: we had no money, and no more cars would be traveling this night. In a scene unimaginable today, the cop gave us twenty bucks and drove us to a local motel, where we could spend the night. We would send him the money when we could.
The next morning Jeff arose early. And as I lay with the blankets to my chin, the goalie from Wellesley began making his bed. I stared in disbelief. "What on earth are you doing?" I asked. He looked at me, tucking in the edges of a perfectly made bed, and replied, "I'm making my bed."
"I'm not making my bed," I said to him, and he cast me a disgusted look. "I'm making my bed, and so are you." With that he walked out the door, leaving me wondering at his words, and staring at his perfectly made bed. You don't make your bed in a motel! And I never told him what I did next, but I wrote the scene in Dawson City Seven.
The cabbie glanced at me in his mirror. "I grew up with Jeff McReynolds," he replied to my query. I hesitated. I'm not one to bring up my writing, but this seemed remarkable, because I know what I've written. I look at the cabbie's face reflected in his mirror. "You're not going to believe this..." I begin, and tell him the whole story. He laughs and tells me that Jeff has never shown up for their reunions, but he believes he has his email address in a booklet his class puts out for the occasion. A day later, after not communicating with the man for nearly thirty years, I receive an email from Jeff McReynolds:
"Don, I just received an email from a high school classmate of mine who drives a cab in Cambridge. He told me of your encounter. As he relayed the story to me, it all came back, even though it occurred over 28 years ago! Our plan to get to Boston early to see our girl friends didn't quite work out as we had anticipated! I also didn't know then that I was hanging out with a future great American author. Any chance that the section of the book that John referred to exists in a digital format that you could email to me?
"I hope all is well with you. Are you still skating? I am not. I am married with three girls living in the far western suburbs of Chicago. My athletic pursuits are limited to an occasioinal round of golf and yard work.
I stared at Jeff's perfectly made bed from mine. I wasn't going to make my bed. But then, in a sudden fit of teenage masculine insecurity, I determined that when the maid came in to do the room she'd find one perfectly made bed and one disheveled one, and she'd think we'd slept together! And so, Jeff, this is what I then did - but better yet, let me copy what I wrote in Dawson City Seven:
"Listen to this," McLennan said, and we listened. "We were playing I forget who in Montreal in '93 when I was with Queen's, and I roomed with a goaler named Hiscock. Good kid, kind of naive. So we get up, actually he got up first in the dormitory room they gave us, and what does he do but start making his bed, eh? Can you believe it? I'm laying there watching Hiscock make his bed. 'What on earth are you doing?' I ask, and he looks at me matter-of-factly and says, 'I'm making my bed. And so will you.'
"I'm not making my bed,' I say as Hiscock finishes tucking everything up. 'I'm not making my bed,' I repeat, but he doesn't care to hear it.
"'Then don't,' he says with this voice that looks down on me like I'm on all fours. He leaves the room and I lay there staring at his bed that's made so perfect it don't look like no one even slept in it." McLennan stops here to let it digest, smiling and looking across us all.
"Like it wasn't even slept in!" he repeats, and it dawns on us and he nods.
"I'm looking at that perfect bed and I realize if someone comes in they're gonna think we slept in the same bed!" Everyone laughs as McLennan delivers an exaggerated wink.
"So what did you do?" Brother Albert asks.
"I think they really did," Archie Martin says and jumps up and exaggerates a wink himself.
"What kind of name is Hiscock?" Norman says.
"I bet he made his bed," Sureshot says with his twinge of disgust, but McLennan shakes his mustached head.
"I tore that bed all to hell!" he yells triumphantly, and we roar with it all....
John Cummings, cabbie from Wellesley and friend of Jeff McReynolds, drops me off at South Station. Boston is young. I loved UMass. We beat Harvard, Jeff in goal, and I got one. Blind shot, twenty feet out front, never saw it go in. I happen to see a policeman directing traffic in a hollaring, menacing manner, and a question suddenly nags at me: Jeff, did we ever pay the cop?