It is five in the morning. My room is dark and cold. But I am warm in bed.
“I’m leaving,” I hear my father say. “Do you want to come?”
I don’t want to get out of bed. I’m seven years old. It’s Sunday morning. I’m warm and cozy, and don’t have to go to school. I want to sleep.
“Yes,” I say.
I’m in the car, which, of course, is warm, because my dad started it a while ago. I sit in the front, as a big, faded-green duffel bag, which holds my father’s hockey stuff and smells like dirty feet, occupies most of the back seat.
We pull onto the street. Snowflakes fall past the car’s headlights. My father tunes the radio to AM 1010 to get the news and traffic even though no one is on the road. That is my father.
In 45 minutes we’ll be at the ice rink at Rye Playland, where my father will play hockey for fun with a bunch of guys. I’m tagging along. I love sports: playing, watching and reading about them. I guess I like hockey, too. I know my father plays, skating is hard, an amazing young player named Wayne Gretzky is being called the Great One, and the Rangers are important because my parents always watch them on TV.
My dad stops to get coffee. I watch as he tears a perfect square from the lid of a Styrofoam cup in order to drink the black steaming liquid as he drives. He must do this every morning, I think, driving to work to teach while we are still in bed. Some nights I’m already in bed by the time he gets home from tutoring.
“Good night,” I’ll hear him say, and I’ll mumble and he’ll tuck me in.
We get to Playland and my dad and his friends get changed in the arcade room. I walk around the ice rink. No one else is here. In a few hours, the New York Rangers will be practicing here, but right now it’s just my dad and guys with names like Hawk, whom everyone calls Hawk because of the size and shape his nose. I don’t call him Hawk. I call him Steak and Eggs because that’s what he eats at the diner afterwards. Sometimes we see real Rangers eating there, en route to practice, and sometimes I get their autographs on diner checks.
Sometimes I get water for the players and sit behind the penalty box. Or watch the Zamboni come out and clean the ice. I roam the whole building. If my dad has given me quarters, I play Pac-Man until I’m out. Sometimes I’ll check all the video machines to see if there are coins in the deposit; sometimes I’ll find one or two and I can play another game. I have no idea if my father’s team is winning or if he’s scored any goals or if it really matters. I do know that I like being here. Of course I do: I could have been in a warm bed. (And it’s cold in here, too, obviously.)
Afterwards, we drive to the diner, and then back home to my mother and Erin. I savor the return trip, watching the way my father drives and sings along to certain songs, knowing I won’t see him much during the coming week – until the next Sunday morning when his voice pulls me out of the cocoon of my warm winter bed.