Winning Teams, by Curtis Gillespie
When it comes to making friends, some people have all the luck.
Arcane wrestling manoeuvres such as the Anaconda Vise, the Rebound Clothesline and the Mongolian Chop aren’t typically referred to as solid pillars on which to form lifelong friendships. Empathy and respect tend to get more play, and I’m sure they work. On the other hand, a Corkscrew Elbow Drop can separate the pretenders from the contenders.
In the fall of 1984, I was an arts undergrad at the University of Alberta, and the Rutherford Library was my second home. One afternoon, I picked up the September 24 issue of the Alberta Report and was immediately drawn to the cover story about the final days of Stampede Wrestling, the famous live TV series. Soon I was crying with laughter, which was when a guy to my left leaned over. He wanted to know what I found so funny.
Unable to speak, I pointed to the section about the infamous six-man tag-team match featuring the hero team led by Bret Hart against the villain crew of Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie, which included the reviled Bad News Allen. After weathering an early thrashing, Hart’s team instigated a comeback, but Bad News Allen perpetrated a disgraceful double-cross. The writer summed up what had happened: “Bad News Allen, crazed, pulled a DINNER FORK from his shorts, brandished it before the stunned crowd and then proceeded to plunge the fork into the forehead of Archie ‘The Stomper’ Gouldie, HIS OWN TEAMMATE!!”
The glasses of the fellow beside me immediately misted over from his own tears. He removed them and recited the paragraph out loud a couple of times. Every repetition of “HIS OWN TEAMMATE!!” made us hold our stomachs and howl yet again.
Fifteen minutes later, we introduced ourselves. His name was Bruce. Over the next few days, I found out he played squash (like me), played Ping-Pong (like me), was an ardent reader (like me) and wanted to be a writer (like me). I’ve now known Bruce longer than I knew my dad, who died at age 60. Bruce was the MC at my wedding 22 years ago, and I returned the favour a few years after.
Today, every conversation-whether we’re discussing fatherhood, a writing project or the hockey performance of the Sedin twins-still finds us laughing, usually over nothing more than the bits of code close friends use as putty to fill in life’s hull cracks. Finding a message from Bruce on my phone screaming “GOAAAAAL!!!” can turn a whole day around.
I’ve always felt there must be some force-a kind of gravitational empathy-that puts us near like-minded souls. I didn’t have many friends in high school (I was short, fat, the object of teasing), but by the time I went to university, my friendship door was open (I was taller, less spherical). I had passed through a difficult period and was ready and in the right place. I guess Bruce was, too.
And it’s a place worth revisiting, since in some ways the entire arc of a friendship can be found in its first fortuitous moments. I know that if Bruce were ever to cause conflict in our relationship, I would simply have to extract a dinner fork from my shorts and rake it across his forehead to restore equilibrium. The best friendships should always be able to return to their roots.