Russ Ringsak

Speaking of Giants

January 31, 2005

We are doing without professional hockey here, along with the rest of the nation, some of us missing it more than others. The hardest hit are the multitudinous small businesses built up around our gorgeous new hockey arena right smack in downtown St Paul. I have an opinion about the strike or the lockout or whatever it is, but this piece isn't about large-scale dumbness.

This is more about small-scale silliness. More about the persistent assaults on the language, from a guy who's always liked this language and who gets a little touchy when it gets constricted. The connection with hockey is that I was in Neumann's in North St. Paul last Friday night — the oldest bar in Minnesota — and the television that might normally have been showing pro hockey, up there by the big elk rack and above the blues band and all the jovial din, was instead showing professional lacrosse. Lacrosse, it was, right there in the gorgeous new hockey arena.

The Minnesota Swarm was playing — or were playing — the San Jose Storm. I've had a problem with that stuff ever since they started naming plurals in the singular, like the Miami Heat. Is each player on that team a Heat, like each player of the Yankees is a Yankee? It doesn't sound right, because they aren't called the Heats. Are they each then a Thermal Unit? Is each Swarm a Locust or a Grasshopper? Can each of our idle Wild hockey players be a Wild? "Hi. I'm a Wild. Do I look untamed, eh? Or no?"

And maybe that's easily sidestepped. Nobody seems to think it's anything crucial, and lingual clumsiness is a pervasive condition these days anyway, now that everyone is an Internet author and publisher. What bugs me more, Swarm fans, is the way obsessive correctness has limited the options for naming teams. Most of the noble animals are of course long gone, like the Tigers and the Eagles and da Bears. Even our common Gopher has been chosen to serve, an animal upon which there is a bounty in many parts of the state. And nobody is finding any new quirky monickers, like the Buckeyes. I've never met anyone who knows what a Buckeye is, or a Hoya, but we're too settled these days for frivolity. Or names like Sooners and Forty Niners.

And of course we can't use Indian names; there is controversy, but clearly we've long run out of tribes to name teams after anyway. Country of origin seems touchy; we've got the Irish, the Vikings, the Celtics, the Trojans and maybe the Orangemen, but not many others. Not even those with reputations for ferocity like the Huns or the Mongols or the Turks; can' go there. Can't name a team after a glamorous occupation any more, either. The Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, Boilermakers, Mariners, Pirates; what else is there? The Repo Men? The Programmers? The Middle Managers?

We're also about out of impressively large people, having used the Giants and the Titans. The Obesities would be out of the question. (Large itself might work in today's vernacular. The Des Moines Large. Or the Ohio Huge.)

Anyway, I look up this lacrosse league and find there are at least two, the National Lacrosse League and the Major League Lacrosse, which already sounds odd. (The Major League Lacrosse league?) And in these two leagues we have not only a Swarm and a Storm but also the Toronto Rock, the Colorado Mammoth (last one left), the Arizona Sting, the Ottawa Rebel (only one in town), the Philadelphia Barrage, the New Jersey Pride. (The Pride; gimme a break. Can you believe it? How about the Vanity? How about the Conceit, or the New Jersey Self-Esteem? They might say, well it could also be a pride of lions, y'know; except that a pride of lions is one guy and a bunch of females.) The team-naming focus groups have gone to attitudes, extinct animals and natural phenomena; not picking on anyone, as harmless as committees can get.

So then I look up pro soccer. There's the Fire, the Crew, the Revolution, the Galaxy, the Earthquakes, the Rapids, the D.C. United, the Real Salt Lake and the FC Dallas; apparently you can make up your own words for FC.

Doesn't all this fatuous blandness just make you want to offer up your own? The Plague, the Pestilence, the Pandemic, the Downpour, the Freezing Rain? The Icy Road? The Thick Fog? The Discouragement, the Disagreement, the Honked Off, the Obstinate? The Termites, the Carpenter Ants, the Deer Ticks? The Dodos? The Archaeopteryx? The Pterodactyls? (All of them better than the Pride, in my book. Heck, the Piss Ants would be better than that.)

The new lacrosse Boston Cannons, if they get away with that name for a while, might open a promising new field: weapons. Besides the obvious Daggers and Broadswords we could get into the Tear Gas, the Mine Fields, the Tanks (not bad for a football team), the Napalm, the Machine Guns. The Smart Bombs. The Bunker Busters. We have the Philadelphia Barrage, so how about a team called the Assault, or perhaps the Carpet Bombers? (Not a bad name for a band, either.)

The Buffalo Bandits are new. They suggest more teams named after lawbreakers: the Embezzlers, the Counterfeiters. The Drunk Drivers. The Muggers, the Smugglers, the Stalkers, the Hackers. The L.A. Illegals. The Perjurers. The Disbarred Shysters.

Not many ever followed the lead of the Minnesota Gophers in naming a team after a local nuisance, but if they wanted to, the Mice are still available; and the Squirrels, the Rats, the Weasels, the Possums ("They play dead at home and get killed on the road"), the Bloodsuckers (that'll strike fear), the Leaches (them, too). The Minnesota Eel Pout and the Duluth Lamprey are possible, as are the New York Roaches and the Louisiana Water Moccasins. Put your own hometown in front of any of these names and hear how they sound. Picture the stadium in total darkness, the low rumble building up to an ominous roar, the strobe lights suddenly zinging all over, the lasers, the smoke, the gigantic drums rolling and the announcer saying in his overblown roller coaster voice "... anda NOWa Laideeze and Gentlemena, let us hear it LOUD and CLEAR forrrr Yourrrrr Verrry Own HAGERrrrrrSTOWN HORRRRSE FLIES!!!"

Anyway: When LaCrosse, Wisconsin, gets a team in the MLL league, what will they name it? What will they call the Major League Lacrosse league's LaCrosse lacrosse team?

I humbly offer the Doublecrossers.

***

A few weeks ago I bought an album released by Buddha Records titled Chet Atkins, Guitar Legend: The RCA Years. It was my everlasting good fortune to get to know Chet back when he was a regular on our show. After his passing in late June of 2001 I had a hard time listening to any of my Chet albums. In fact I couldn't do it for about two years. This last one is of his early works and was recommended by a couple of guitarists I hold in high esteem, a country wizard and a blues master. I have been playing the CD a lot lately.

I find it's best heard loud. It is utterly amazing the way each note falls exactly to the right place, with the right feel, the right tone to it, the right edge and clarity. That Chet Atkins sassy fortitude. Utter confidence without a trace of arrogance. It was precisely who he was and it comes shining inevitably through his music, and it couldn't have been otherwise. He was a man who showed as much class as he had brilliance, as much humility as he had chops. Listening to his music is not that different from him being right there in the car. What a guy.

And about the same time I bought that album I saw the movie Ray, the story of another giant. Like Chet and B.B. King, he was raised dirt poor in the South and grew up to enrich the entire nation, and with it the world. Ray was our best voice, no contest. Best rock singer, best blues singer, best country singer, best rhythm and blues singer, best balladeer, best pop singer; and he was a hell of a piano player in the process. He had monster hits in all styles. Once he did a song it was his from then on: "I Can't Stop Loving You," "Born To Lose," "Georgia." Had a voice that felt to me like a solid wall. The first time I heard him sing "America" I had to pull over to the side of the road and stop. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it then and it still chills me all these years later.

Neither of these guys is replaceable. Nothing out there even reminds me of that level of genius and pure spirit, or ever has. Nobody except B.B., and I'm planning to see him again in March. You learn to appreciate people like that when you get older, and you begin to understand just how rare it is that such gifts are given to us.

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