The Secret Life of Skips - Part 4
This is a column about brushing, brushes and uses of the brush unintended by the manufacturer. Why me? I'm a skip. What could I possibly know about this? I made a pilgrimage to The Yoda and here's the deal.
Background. Unencumbered by technical competence in the area of sweeping or brushing, I'll fall back on a career rich with friends and anecdotes, what brushes the top teams use, and observations about the use of brushes for purposes unintended by the manufacturer.
General Experience. I'm a skip and I have been for 25 of my 32 years in the game. In that time I have played roughly 2700 games and won about two-thirds of them. Should you take advice
from a guy who has lost 900 games?
Brushing skills. The last brush I actually bought was in 1987, "Team Dick", still inscribed years later from a season playing third for a gentleman athlete, cum Renaissance Man, named Richard. To gauge the mileage on this sweeping implement, that would be about 800-1000 games over a 10-year period. The brush was still okay for me right to the end when I simply lost it. Now I use a Hammer. I got it for free. I like it.
Creative and Verbal Skills My inspiration is blunted a bit this season but it usually comes from conversation, observation, music, cartoons and friends. It's been a blessing that there has been a
translucent barrier between the best of the latter two during these last several years. There is a debt of gratitude for the laughs, the lessons and progress toward a special kind of success. The
grey area on the bubble between the best cartoons and the best friends is the dimension from whence anything lasting that I know about anything, (including curling) comes. As Mark Twain
said."Against the assault of humour, nothing can stand." Without the support of a brush, most skips can't either.
Generalizations are rationalizations of extremes. There are two generalized sweeping positions. Upright, almost standing, all the upper body weight fully applied, handle maybe 75 to 90 degrees to the ice, over the head of the broom with tense, jerky motions, arms more or less locked, feet shuffling in a cross-over step, head just a-goin' like a pigeon walking sideways listening to up tempo blues. The other technique is the lower , more crouched one, handle at 45 degrees or less to the ice, requiring more use of the lower body , arms and legs. It's the one that makes you look like a dog humping a football. Music... any country stuff with a bad fiddle in it.
Performance Brushes. They just look stupid. With three "O's". But I'd take a free one, a bundle of cash and declare it, as Kawaja (third for Werenich) did with another product, as "The best sweeping device I have ever used." How you define "used" frames the order of magnitude of the embellishment. I guess I could rationalize it. But until I win the Worlds like Ed did, get a free brush and some cash inconsideration, my endorsement, if you will, of the Performance Brush remains a frank, unadulterated, unpaid assessment of its appearance, which is all I know about it. Well, there's a little more. Team Nova Scotia used them in the Brier in 1997 and did some of the finest Gorilla Sweeping I have EVER seen in some games we played them. Darragh and O'Leary use them too but these are guys with a sense of humour.
Hair Brushes. About 40 or 50 curlers may never forget my grand and charitable gesture in cash spiel game last year (96/97) It was an offer of help to sweep a rock in a game last year when it appeared that a draw was especially light. Ready to risk life and limb to sprint out and dig in with my 10-year old 8-Ender Brush, I called to the sweepers as the stone crawled down the ice, "Line's okay. Need help?" No answer from the sweepers. I repeated. "DO YOU NEED HELP!!!???" As I charged out to help in full stride came the playfully insulting reply "Okay, Billy. Go get somehelp, will ya?" I stopped, dead cold . I've heard of body language but I didn't know until then that person's whole body could talk. Mine sorta went. "HUH?" Picture Wile E. Coyote. In that pregnant pause I was fair -game in freeze-frame. All that was missing was a sign to hold up. "IDIOT". Good thing I had a brush. What to do with your hands at a time like that? If you have a brush made with hair, you can slither away from the scene, avoiding eye contact as you occupy your pride, preening the hairs. Doing so, one can abort theconvulsive hilarity or salve the embarrassment, as the incident requires. This passes for humility or grace.
Brownie Brushes. Brownies can keep you entertained. The Brownie Brush is a firm, thick pillow pad on a stick. The pillow pad makes a great arm-rest. The inventor is Mr. Brown of Kingston, Ontario. He's an upholsterer by vocation and had grown tired of the debris left by the hair brush. His product is the one all the yo-yos like to thump up and down the lines during the finger-drumming intermission between shots. Thumping is a lot of fun. I recently had a chance to try it. You bounce and twirl left. You bounce it and flip to the right. The handle has a certain tactile resonance. Oh, and then there's the muted drama ofthe over-the-head, pillow down two-handed-slam. Brownies don't spray shrapnel like a Hammer does andall you need to do after an indiscretion is to grunt a quiet apology and assume a contrite demeanor. And maybe pick at the fluff a bit faking a pensive moment. Team Flemming and Team Ogden use Brownies.These guys can really lean on them. Ahem.
Hammers. Unlike a Brownie, when you express yourself with a Hammer, somebody will record the splatter pattern for presentation at the closing banquet, in the form of a postmodern Bayeux Tapestry perhaps.See Figure "A". Hammer is a Brand Name. Not a suggestion. My team uses Hammers. We used to have four but now we only have three. Hammers DO fit into the broom bag better after a murderous whack.
8-Ender Transformers. I'm not aware of a whole team that uses these at the competitive level. Perhaps that says enough, either about the brush or the attention I pay. Or perhaps it's because this company doesn't sponsor teams by supplying their product. I don't know for sure.
Corn Brooms. Oh, those were the days. Bring back the Sixties, man. Back then skips chose their front-end players for their ability to sweep almost to the exclusion of any other competence. They were often big, fit, built like fullbacks and blessed with the energy and IQ of a ferret. One of my guys once bit a chunk out of a broom as we shook hands with our opponent before the game. With apologies to Cat Stevens, he found a girl, settled down, thinks a lot, takes it easy, etc. A different skip has the key to thecage now. A few skips on top teams still use corn, including Dave Jones, Peter Corkum and Ted Hennigar but you'll rarely see front ends using them.
Other Unintended Uses
Now the big guys have brushes. Yours truly once got in the middle of testosterone surge, simultaneously experienced by two huge, normally mild-mannered men not accustomed to being challenged. I think they caught each other off guard and couldn't find a way to backdown from each other without losing face. One was on my team, the other was the opposing skip and they were trying to spear each other in a territorial dispute on the ice. The small one weighed 235 pounds. I weighed a svelte 140 and I have the IQ of a walnut. Blessed are the peacemakers for they can run faster scared than the big guys can mad. All brushes have basically the same aerodynamic performance when thrown. But due to the weight and composition of the head, it's likely that casualty rates for some would be higher. One curler, recovering from head trauma, in this instance not the result of an on-ice conflagration, was asked sincerely but a bit awkwardly "Gee. How ya feelin? Do you see differently or anything?" The good-humoured reply. "Nope.You still look ugly." This retort was from a courageous spirit dealing with a life threatening disease and making his friend comfortable.
Collateral Injury to Non-Combatants
Many of us have seen brush heads snap off and fly when slammed. So far I have only heard of close calls. That head trauma COULD have been the result of an on-ice mishap, an angrily thrown spite shotor a shattered brush. There's more anger and aggression all the time, perhaps due to the stakes and thecharacter of the athlete attracted to those stakes. I won't be self-righteous, I catch myself clunking tooand I'm by no means a professional athlete. You even see it occasionally in club recreational leagues. The really disquieting thing is that the "good guys" are even doing it, albeit uncharacteristically. These behaviours, though frowned upon are mostly excused as self-directed by players frustrated withthemselves. One wonders if it is becoming perversely cool somehow. It will undermine the ideals of thegame, in the same way that Olympic ideals have been compromised. Skips have a responsibility to set the example, demand compliance and accept no excuses. Mea culpa on all three counts. It's not a habitfor me but I'm not proud of my own record, either. I have a vivid memory of a certain "unintended use" of the broom handle threatened by my older brothersome years ago if I ever "clunked" again. Never mind the loss of respect from my real life hero, theprospect of the pain of a birch suppository he threatened to administer was enough, thank you. Now it's fibre-glass.
The Sorceror's Apprentice
You have to go home eventually. Recall Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Mickey had been given the job of mopping the grungy stone floors of the castle. Donning the Sorcerer's hat, he was bestowed its powers. He magicallyanimated the legions of mops to carry the water and do the swabbing. Picture the tensed, wizardly gestures of his white-gloved, outstretched hands the knotted, threateningbrow. Familiar? It was Mickey's visit to Skip Land and a fitting caricature of us brush-challenged skipfolk. Mickey sat down and went to sleep after he got things rolling, confident that the work would bedone. The mops went out of control and the castle got flooded because Mickey couldn't slow them down or make them stop when he woke up. The Sorcerer, on his return, was cheesed but he was the least of Mickey's problems. Minnie Mouse has been giving him grief for his maladministration of office for 5 decades.
Wisdom is the Ability to Cope
Our game could use some colour, if only in some excitement over a good shot. But Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Curling would be a huge joke and a hideous caricature of our game. Okay the, if I can't sell that idea, forget sportsmanship, if you choose to. Let's talk coping. Tips for winning have a broader appeal and a tangible benefit. Skips and curlers at large, wake up and take charge. It's your game, so when someone says "Don't take it personal, he's just mad at himself." That's arbage. The game and its ideals are ours. That makes it personal. "Here's five bucks for a stress ball, pal. Buy one and keep it in your pocket." To be fair, curling is very mental and stressful, particularly in the competitive ranks, with little or nooutlet for physical release of tension. The sad reality is that outcome of unmitigated stress is often another missed shot and more tension, often upsetting the interpersonal dynamics or chemistry of the team. That's partly how I lost some of those 900 games. Sometimes I was the bad seed. Other times team mates, (can't recall a mean or bad person among them), were.
Coaches and Curling Yodas
Fully qualified Level II and III coaches can instruct players on stress management techniques. Talk to one if this is a problem for your team, competitive or otherwise. Even if manifest stress is not a problem,it's a good idea to learn some coping techniques for yourself. It will improve your game and your chancesof playing on a good team. Your club manager can get you a list of certified coaches.
My Rate Schedule (Level I)
Answers Requiring Thought $2.00
Correct Answers $4.00
Dumb Looks Free
Professional Shrink's Rate Schedule
Canine Head-Tilt $100.00/hr
Furrowed Brow extra
Answers "Time's up. Next time"
Friend, Curling Yoda or Qualified Coach
The whole deal Price - Appreciation
Incidents will happen but there could be some form of response as a deterrent, perhaps a CCA
rule for competitions. If you break a brush, you don't get a new one to complete the game, even
to slide with. Or perhaps just moral suasion backed up with a team rule akin to the kindergarten
cone-shaped cap.Buddy gets a new one labeled "Team Dick."
The Jedi Code
One will be a little edgy and more intense in competition. That's the nature of sport.
Be aware of the forces of the Dark Side.... anger, fear, aggression.
I for one, will set a better example and hold a higher standard. Big brother is watching me and 1000 is creeping up.