The Secret Life of Skips - Part I:

Skips. They're known as "twist tops", "space-cadets", "toons" and "flakes" and sometimes described as self-absorbed, ego-centric, eccentric, heretical, arrogant, off-the-wall or even intelligent to the point of being literate. Then there are the special terms applied to individuals and situations, usually vernacular terms for parts of the anatomy - usually not parts above the neck, either. A prime target for caricature.

How do we wind up there? Sure sometimes it's by default or by forcing one's will. But that never really lasts does it? Others just don't get invited to play for one reason or another on their team of choice. The terminal, pathological cases simply seem to be born with or acquire the position.

Those cases, which are the majority, I think, must have qualities and attributes in common. I'll suggest that it has to do with how we think; what we think about; how we deal with pressure; but mostly how do we deal with all that dead time? How do you find and keep that groove, without which your team won't win a 7 or 8-game series?

You just have to breathe through your eyelids. Watch the baseball movie "Bull Durham" and you've got it. For now, read on.

The first thing is, you have to learn to pee really fast, especially with time clocks. Imagine using a time-out for a pee-break. To avoid the dubious distinction of being the first to do so, you have to watch your fluid intake - before and during the game. Then you have to manage, as best you can, the physiological effects of dehydration and caffeine withdrawal.

If that doesn't work for you, you have to pick the right time to go. You can't go when it's your turn to shoot, so to speak, for obvious reasons with the clock running. (They might tell everybody how quick you really are.) You can't go when it's your third's turn because it would be just one more thing he'd have to explain to the front end. It starts the chatter. Where's he going? Why now? Can't he hold it? Geez make sure his zipper is up when he comes out. (Your third, the one who understands you best, is thinking, "I just hope he remembers to pull it down when he goes in there.")

You can go on lead or second's rocks and put the third in the house but he's not used to watching the guys throw and you don't want him to get discouraged. So all you're left with is when can you leave an empty house? You really have to dash on a lead rock, the first one when you don't have hammer. Have you ever seen anything more useless than a skip in the rings in that situation? WEIGHT ONLY GUYS, LINE'S GOOD! Right.

The second thing you have to really get down is that frozen herring look. It's a versatile non-expression. Use it when you blow a line call, flash a hit or just want to avoid eye contact without appearing ticked off, aloof or even a bit disconcerted. It allows you dodge any admission of responsibility, any appearance of laying blame and shouldn't damage their apparent confidence in you. But you have to shake it off quick or you're shark bait. Vulnerability is not a good thing.

Next, you have to learn to help your team through some rough spots. Sooner or later, one thrower or another is going to hit a slump, a really ugly one. He's going to ask, in good faith, what happened to that one? Again and again. It's a bit like when your wife asks you "Am I getting fatter?" There's no safe answer and you must be careful not to answer to quick or think too long. A wise man might answer his sweetheart with a question like "Well, do your clothes fit different, dear? (See Tim Allen's book for more on this.) In curling it's "Well, what time is it in Hong Kong, Bucko?"

The poor guy. You can't always say the ice was wrong. You've played on fast ice, slow ice, straight ice, swingy ice, sweaty ice, frosty ice and home ice in-between. He's adjusted this and eliminated that.

You've pointed out a dozen or so little inflections in his release, set-up or slide usually so minor it wouldn't be that big a deal - but the poor guy is hurtin' and everything you say is magnified. He's still probably throwing better than you are, just different every time. A Kaleidoscope of perfection.

You're about to phone his wife and tell her to take away his belt and shoe laces (and keep him home from the rink). That's when he's going to ask you "Well, how bad was that? Really. Tell me. I gotta know."

This is not a time to be subtle, wishy washy, empathetic or disgusted. Any of these could be misconstrued as resignation. You're his lifeline to curling sanity. Tell him it looked like he was throwing a water balloon at you. If he laughs, he'll relax and the slump is over. If he doesn't, you're skip-on-a-stick, the first curling totem-pole and the proctologist is now your only friend.

These little skipping tips are the product of on of those those twisted, feeble skip-minds. Everything said about us in the opening paragraph is true enough. But we're the product of our environment.

Too much time and not enough to do.