With profuse apologies to my good and dear friend Herman Melville, who is dead. R.I.P. Big Herm.
I am a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations for the last thirty years has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom as yet nothing that I know of has ever been written: I mean the NHL-contractees, or hockeyists. I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep.
But I waive the biographies of all other hockeyists for a few passages in the life of Pierre-Luc Bartleby, who was a hockeyist of the strangest I ever saw or heard of. While of other NHL-contractees I might write the complete life, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done. I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactory biography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to literature.
Ere introducing the hockeyist, as he first appeared to me, it is fit I make some mention of myself, my employees, my business, and general surroundings; because some such description is indispensable to an adequate understanding of the chief character about to be presented.
I belong to a class of men known as coaches. This is a profession notorious for its collective intensity, for abusers masquerading as leaders, for stultified, unfocused thinking dressed up as expensive genius through gratuitous whiteboardery and snarled exclamations. Not even I am exempt from these flaws, which are an all-too-natural consequence of the pressures inherent in our occupation, but the reader should note that they are far more often sensible in my colleagues than in my person.
Having been charged with the care of a National League Hockey team, it became my business to guide them to Lord Stanley’s Cup. It has been mentioned previously that this business is a ruthless and difficult one, and I immediately cast about looking for the means by which to achieve my aims.
My resources were distressingly thin at the time, and I was not wholly satisfied that the squad I had been presented with was salvageable without further additions. Not that they were absolutely idle, or averse to hockey then; far from it. The difficulty was, they were apt to be altogether too energetic. There was a strange, inflamed, flurried, flighty recklessness of activity about them. They made an unpleasant racket with their sticks; misplaced the puck; in clumsy attempts to regain possession, impatiently slashed at their more skillful opposition; when, as was inevitable, they conceded a goal, the team would hang their heads a most indecorous manner, very sad to behold.
Not only must I push the players already with on my payroll, thought I, but I must have additional help. In answer to my search, a motionless young man one morning, stood upon my office threshold, the door being open, for it was summer. I can see that figure now — pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! It was Pierre-Luc Bartleby.
After a few words touching his qualifications, I drafted him, glad to have among my corps a man of so singularly sedate an aspect, which I thought might operate beneficially upon the flighty temper of Cam, and the fiery one of Nick.
At first Bartleby performed an extraordinary quantity of hockey. As if long-famishing for something to skate upon, he seemed to gorge himself on the ice. There was no pause for digestion. He skated day and night, playing by sunlight and by searchlight. I should have been quite delighted with his application, had he been cheerfully industrious. But he played on silently, palely, mechanically.
Now and then, in the furious nonsense of gameday, it had been my habit to assist in planning out some brief play myself, calling over Max or Boone to assist with this purpose. One object I had in placing Bartleby so handy to me on the ice, was to avail myself of his services on such trivial occasions. It was on the third year, I think, of his being with me, and before any necessity had arisen for having his own skating examined, that I abruptly called to Bartleby. In my haste and natural expectancy of instant compliance, I sat with my head bent over on the bench, looking down at my clipboard, assuming that Bartleby might apply himself to his duty without the least delay.
In this very attitude did I sit when I called to him, rapidly stating what it was I wanted him to do—namely, to apply himself on the forecheck. Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation, when without moving from his station in the neutral zone, Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not to.”
I sat awhile in perfect silence, rallying my stunned faculties. Immediately it occurred to me that my ears had deceived me, or Bartleby had entirely misunderstood my meaning. I repeated my request in the clearest tone I could assume. But in quite as clear a one came the previous reply, “I would prefer not to.”
“Prefer not to,” echoed I, rising in high excitement. “What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to take that man—,” and here I gesticulated violently down the ice, “—take him and—.”
“I would prefer not to,” said he.
I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray eye dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him. Had there been the least uneasiness, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner; in other words, had there been any thing ordinarily human about him, doubtless I should have violently dismissed him from the premises.
Bartleby drifted around for some time, wholly indifferent to the game. Indeed, the other men on the ice seemed mere phantoms to him, so lost was he in his own inner world. I had long since exhausted my repertoire of insults, curses and exhortations whence he abandoned his phantasmorgic shift and returned to the bench.
Perplexed, I attempted to engage the young hockeyist in conversation, querying him — interrogating might be more the phrase — on just what he was about. To this he gave no answer, but when asked about the prospect of further ice-time, he gave his now-familiar reply. Unsure else to do about him, I left him to sit for the rest of the game, a position he sustained with no obvious discontent.
There he remained. As I was leaving the arena, vexed at the team’s performance, vexed at the loss, but most of all vexed at my inability to command this intractable young man, I noticed a suspicious glimmering in the darkness. I flatter myself that I do not scare easily, but in my disturbed frame of mind there was a profound trembling of arm as I raised a light and peered icewards.
There, in the position we had left him hours ago, still in full hockeyist panoply, sat Bartleby. He met my gaze calmly, even respectfully. I choked down a yelp of anger with no small difficulty, and spoke, with cold, venomous authority. “Bartleby! Go home! Do you hear? Go home!”
He preferred not to.
A hearty meal extricated me from my dark mood, and as I prepared for bed that night I resolved not to let the events of the day weigh on my mind. Bartleby, I noted, was a young man, and there was nobody more appreciative of youthful hijinks than myself. He had made game of me for one day, and would surely submit the next, with no long-term harm done.
The next morning, I arrived at Nationwide Arena in sanguine temper. I would congratulate my hockeyist for his jape, then privately suggest that he ought to, perhaps, consider his timing more carefully. The situation thus dealt with in my mind, I strode forcefully into my office, ready to confront the non-Bartleby trials and tribulations of my work, which as noted above, are many.
A sharp knock on my door stirred me from my reading. “Come in, Bartleby,” said I. The door opened, and I looked up in gratification. But the pale face confronting me was not Bartleby. Nick’s brown eyes were wild with fear. “Coach,” he said, “He’s still there.”
A horrific vision descended upon me with prophecy’s dread certainty. Bartleby, perched on the bench, unmoving, unmovable, preferring not to rise, preferring not to play, preferring not to depart, ultimately preferring to perish rather than do anything at all. I saw a frozen perversion of a hockeyist cemented to the bench, as stiff and unflappable as death as in life. I saw an eternal, implacable curse laid upon the Blue Jackets.
The signs were clear and terrible. Action was forced upon me. On January 23, hockeyist Pierre-Luc Bartleby was traded to the Winnipeg Jets, along with a 2022 third-rounder, in exchange for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.