“Hey, your napkin’s on fire.”
May 24, 2011 § 3 Comments
It was autumn of 2005 and I, like every other NHL fan, just wanted to forget about the horrible lockout season of 2004-05 and get back to the ice. The Penguins had won the draft lottery and taken Sidney Crosby as the inevitable first pick. He was extremely young (18!) and extremely talented. I was a year older than him but this kid already had been drafted #1 overall, signed a mega million sponsorship deal with Reebok, and been called the next Wayne Gretzky. I was in love. Frankly, I was more in love with the way he could handle a puck than anything else. I read as many articles about him as I could, looked up videos on Youtube, and waited anxiously for the NHL season to start. Everyone’s got a movie star crush. I had a Sidney Crosby crush.
I walked into the Café on a warm, breezy night near the end of September. I was there with Jill to pick up my paycheck, have some dinner, and debate with Jeff about training camp and the upcoming hockey season. I greeted the bartender, Angie, and then slung my purse onto one of the tables by the bar. It was right then that I noticed there were men wearing suits at the tables next to us. A number of suits. A rather intimidating amount of suits worn by rather intimidating broad-shouldered men who looked ages older than me. And one suited boy who looked barely out of high school, but with an incredibly familiar face.
I sat down at the table before my legs gave out and looked away from those familiar features. Brown eyes, curly hair, broad shoulders… Sidney Crosby was eating dinner at the table directly across from me. At the Café. My Café! It was mind-boggling. This was the place I came to work and talk to people about how he was going to save Pittsburgh and bring us back the Stanley Cup. This was the restaurant where I had watched the draft lottery and then the draft itself. Where I waited tables and made money for my mundane life in the middle of a mundane city where nothing but mundane things ever happened to me. It wasn’t where I waltzed in on payday and sat down five feet away from a guy whose poster hung on my bedroom wall (I am not ashamed to admit this, as he is an attractive young man, and anyway the poster is one of him playing hockey in gross sweaty hockey gear). Sidney Crosby! I dared to take another glance at the table and almost dropped the menu Angie was handing me. Oh hi, Mario Lemieux, I thought. Hey, Mark Recchi, John LeClair. Sergei Gonchar and Andre Roy. Hi, you random three guys I don’t recognize but who look famous.
I was star-struck, I admit it. I’m not telling this story so I can play off being all cool and indifferent. Who would believe me? It’s not like Sidney came in there to eat every day. I was in the presence of two of my heroes and a handful of some of the finest players to lace up skates and play my beloved sport. But I had some pride too. I kept my composure and only glanced at Sidney every now and then, very subtly. Jill and I ordered food and had a normal conversation. We chatted with Jeff and watched some news on the television above the bar. The funny thing is: I don’t remember ever thinking about getting an autograph from Sid or Mario or any of them. I didn’t even want to talk to them; I was petrified at the thought. I just wanted to sit there and bask in the knowledge that Sidney Crosby had eaten at my restaurant and that we’d made eye contact over my plate of penne pasta with vodka sauce once when I happened to lift my head right at the exact moment he lifted his and I was 100% sure he smiled at me. I smiled back.
Midway through the meal that I was too nervous to eat, things became interesting. Jill had to step outside to take a phone call. Left alone at the table, I immediately pulled out my cell and began to text my brother the incredible news. Angie came up to the table and asked if I was done with my pasta as she lifted the plate away. I nodded, not even bothering to look up from my phone. I was in the middle of texting him a sentence ending in a hundred exclamation points when I smelled something weird. I sniffed. Definitely weird. It was almost like paper burning. It smelled smoky and unpleasant. I finally pulled my gaze away from my text, only to drop my phone on the ground in utter horror. My paper napkin had somehow fallen into the tea light candle that sat on my table. It was now blazing up merrily and smoke was rising.
“Hey, your napkin’s on fire.” Sidney Crosby’s concerned voice was like a whip on my nerves.
“I know!” I gasped out, and then dumped my glass of water (ice, lemon, straw, and all) onto the burning paper. Water ran and ice scattered everywhere. I jumped up to avoid the stream that was now trickling onto the floor.
“It’s still smoking. Here, put more water on it.” I looked up and almost died. Sidney was standing right next to me, holding out his own glass of water. I took it with a shaking hand and cautiously poured some onto the rest of the napkin. The flames finally died and I was left holding Sid’s water glass, staring down at the disgusting residue of soggy, burned napkin. Acrid smoke still hung in the air.
“Thank you.” I turned to him, unable to think of anything else to say. “I’m really sorry.” I apologized for no reason. He smiled down at me, his brown eyes sparkling but kind. “No problem.”
Now I suppose if this story were a movie, or my imagination, then now is the part where Sidney and I have a special moment. You know, one of those cheesy movie scenes where a boy and a girl stare into each other’s eyes as sparks (literally!) fly all around them. They realize there’s a certain ‘something’ in the air between them and the romance begins.
But this wasn’t a movie. It was my boring life in boring old Wilkes-Barre and I had to turn away from Sidney to wipe up the dripping water from the floor. Angie brought over a roll of paper towels and helped me pull the chairs away from the table. Sid sat back down and I could see the other guys smiling at each other. As I stood back up, clutching a handful of sopping wet paper towels, Andre Roy flashed me a grin. “Did you do that on purpose to get attention?”
My poor nerves were shattered at that point. I was embarrassed and felt very stupid. “I would never do that!” I flared up. “I honestly don’t know how it fell in the candle.”
He smiled at me in a nicer way. “I’m just teasing you. You looked so shocked when it happened.”
I took a deep breath and let it out again before replying ruefully. “I can only imagine.” He laughed with me and I felt better. Mario Lemieux said something about candles, but to this day, I honestly don’t remember what he said because Sidney was smiling at me again and offering me one of the paper napkins stacked on his table.
Again, if this were a movie or some cheesy fan fiction, I guess now would be the scene where I regain my composure and strike up a conversation with Sidney. We’d laugh and chat with the rest of the guys and things would be fun and cool and exciting and we’d exchange numbers and by the time you’d read about this on my blog, Sid and I’d be married. But it’s not a movie. We did chat and it was fun because he’s a nice guy. And Jill came back from outside and had the whole sordid story explained to her, and I ordered dessert and actually ate it, and someone got Sidney another glass of water. And I’ve never met him since that night. It wasn’t a movie and I’ve no need to exaggerate anything for effect. The best part of this story is the truth. Just a little story of the night I met Sidney Crosby.
I don’t have the poster anymore but I’ve still got the crush.