Olympic ehngst

What a fabulous Winter Games this has been.

And I’m not just saying that because Todd Bertuzzi was the goat in the men’s hockey disaster. (Yeah, he’s done the NHL time for his crime. That still doesn’t make it right that he should be gunning for world gold while Steve Moore’s still struggling to focus on the telecast.)

No, it’s because, as I feel compelled to remind the readership at least once a week, I work for Hbc – OK, the Hudson’s Bay Company. They’re hoping to tactfully ditch the full name, thanks. On the same basic principles as KFC, except our coolness-preventing stereotypes are named Pierre instead of Sanders.

Let’s face it, ordinarily this job never ranks high on the Forbes 500 Coolest lists. I don’t even get to work on the potentially glamourous projects; all those are over at the Bay. Tell people you work for Zellers, on the other hand, and you inevitably become the sounding board for years of consumer gunginess, not infrequently involving bodily fluids.
“Oh, Shoe, it’s OK…” you are now thinking sympathetically. “At least your family and friends are supportive and proud!” Yeah, well, all props for thinking positively. At least remote acquaintances feel the need to murmur ‘I’m sure it’s not your fault, but…” before launching into the epic tale of Aunt Millie’s New Caftan and the Mystery Stain: “…we had to ask the girl twice before she’d get off the phone and tell that man to put the rottweiler back on the leash!”

Given this less-than-world-class rep, like most of you I’m sure – esp. including any of you who may be actual Olympic participants – when I heard that we’d snagged the contract for the official Team Canada clothing, my first reaction was: Oh God, Not the Stripes. I too cringed wholeheartedly at the vision of our athletes marching onto the world stage wearing the inspiration for the coat my Bay (er, Hbc) Barbie used to wear.

But lo, the design gods had evidently decided we’d been kicked around enough (what with the looming purchase by the Guy From Wal-Mart-ville and all) and graced our Olympic team with real inspiration. You’ve all seen the displays by now – or at least, you better have, or I’ll be forced to break that sealed online course labeled ‘Earning Your 00-Prefix’. They took those colours and made them sing. For the first time in possibly its entire existence except that time Pierre imported the dancing girls from Montreal, the Hudson’s Bay Company was positively oozing ooh-la-lah.

Thus for two weeks we were promoted to the ranks of Wealthy Corporate Importance. And let me tell you, it was sweet. The whole company gathered to watch the opening Parade of Nations. Endless shots of beaming international medal winners all dolled up in the same fantastic outfits currently occupying mannequins in our lobby. Constant intranet updates re: how Canada was suddenly the country to have emblazoned across your hat all over again…

…So, OK, there was also nations gathering forth to and pushing the limits of the human and yada yada yada Brian Williams-cakes. We ALknew all that stuff, man, because we got to watch it on big-honkin-screen plasma TVs. One in the cafeteria, permanently tuned to Torino coverage. An even bigger screen, similarly tuned, plus an xBox loaded with Torino 2006 in the atrium. Cushy leatherette atrium chairs – OK, those were there already, but grouped around a stack of mondo electronics they reached a whole new level of comfiness.

Seriously. Up until the Parade I’d been proud and all, but it wasn’t until I wandered through on my way back from delivering paperwork, paused for, oh, ten minutes or so to boo Roots’ USA gear…and when I returned my boss’ only comment was “So how’d they look?’… that the sheer bliss of it all sank in: We’re sponsoring a gigantic international two-week sporting event.

For a whole fortnight, the Zellers HO Muzak was Olympic fanfares. Bored with your usual routine? Grab a fellow red-and-white-sweatsuited co-worker, pull up a chair and settle in for a little company-sanctioned goofing off. The Official Family Room of the 2006 Winter Games.

And it wasn’t just us sports nuts, either. Lunch, breaks, trips to offices on the other end of the atrium…by the start of Week Two pretty much the entire office, from lowliest maintenance to the topmost suits, young and old, guys and grandmothers, had bonded into one big raucous family. Wandering in and out asking what’s the score and ooh, did he break his neck and will they give them full marks for that and just where the hell was Belarus, anyway? Oh, one of them Russian colonies? Figured.

Luge casualties (honestly, the way those sleds flipped and rolled you’d swear it was all a plot to attract NASCAR fans), hockey heartbreak, sublime (and otherwise) skating…I saw it all, man. Live and real time.

The best times, in fact, were the unexpected ones: One evening, heading out the door, I paused for a few contented seconds to watch a friend work on his Alpine downhill times on the xBox, and Jeffrey Buttle on the big screen…got home a bit late, that day. A week later, I was trying to decide between spicy or plain fries when suddenly the cafeteria was electric with the excitement of Kristina Groves’ silver medal – I found a prime seat just in time to catch Cindy Klassen’s run for gold.

I saw all of Cindy’s medal runs, actually; became fascinated by her broad, plain, strangely un-goddess-like face. I saw the Swedish women’s hockey team upset the USA. I saw Jeremy Wotherspoon wipe out in the 500m, which was doubly frustrating, because owing to an Olympic Profile perused that morning I had already awarded him the gold in Cross-Country Eye Candy. And I spent a long, sunny afternoon break stuffing myself with leftover Goodbye Cynthia cake to the accompaniment of the ladies’ figure skating short program.

And – thank you for once, strategic cubicle placement – what I didn’t see, I heard. This huge ROAR!/GROAN! would go up and you’d race out and ask…then you’d saunter back in, a few ceremonies/replays of disaster later, and enjoy spreading the word.

…Well, you’d enjoy spreading it to everybody but my pal Rina, at any rate. Which was OK, really, ‘cause she soon settled in comfily as the Official Family Member Who Doesn’t Get It. (On Wotherspoon’s woes: “Ahhhh, [speed-skating]’s a new made-up sport anyway…What? Well, I never heard of it. Look at those stupid outfits, you’re telling me they’ve been wearing those for decades?!”)

We kicked things off early, outfit-wise. She’s first-gen Greek, and her husband is Italian, so she wasn’t all that impressed by my comparing the home team Parade gear to potatoes all set for the BBQ.

“They’re Italians, they’ve gotta to be different!” she protested. “It’s not just ‘poofy’, it’s a major fashion statement!”

“Yeah,” I retorted, “and that statement is Over Here, We Wrap ‘Em Shiny Side In.”

Having had time to discuss it calmly at home, her reaction to the Canada-Italia women’s hockey blowout next day was much more circumspect: “It’s like Max says – let’s have the Italians challenge us to a soccer game, and then we’ll see!” Uh-huh. Given the alacrity to which she then latched onto it for the duration I soon began to suspect this was her husband’s reaction to most setbacks for the fatherland, possibly including bad weather. (“Humidity? Pffft! I challenge Canadian humidity to a soccer game!”)

But the best, the very, very greatest, quite possibly the ne plus ultra Olympic Moment of my whole entire life, came the one day an especially loud fare of fans interrupted our daily caffeklatch. Turning, we found ourselves squinting in horror at the latest luge lunge out of control. “Ohhh…” said Bette. “Owwwww…” agreed Angela. “It’s OK, they didn’t break their neck – I think,” I added.
“What I’m wondering,” said Rina, who as you may have gathered went into retail when law school didn’t work out, “is how you decide to become a – a luge person in the first place.”
“You lie down on the little sled,” Angela said, reasonably.
“No, I mean, how do you know that you’re good at it? I mean, skiing I can see, everybody goes skiing…”
“What if you fall down on the skis?” I suggested.

Pause. Incredulous silence. And then…the entire room burst into the loudest, longest laugh I have every heard in my entire two years at that company. Me, I just sat back and revelled in my Olympic gold medal for comedy…

—OK, so maybe you sort of had to be there.

Sadly, though, ‘there’ isn’t there anymore. The TVs were packed up, the xBox was raffled off (but not before, I’m pleased to report, my buddy owned the medalboard in both luge and giant slalom). The red-and-white-tracksuits have been replaced by suits with ties. Our brief taste of corporate luxury is over…

(News headline: Zucker Announces Success of Hbc Takeover Bid)

…Sigh.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shing_
    Feb 28, 2006 @ 10:23:55

    Did you get any of the cool Olympics gear? *am liek so jellus* Now that the games are over, I’m waiting for the sale. 🙂

    So cool how the company put up tv screens and such. Can’t tell you how many times I fell asleep on the couch trying to stay up and watch the games.

    And speedskating is the best! Gotta love the Dutch and their orange.

    I still remember Herman Meier’s (?) crash in skiing in 2002. The fact he ended up getting a medal the next day or something astounded me.

    My cousin in Vancouver has already been notified that I’ll be visiting come 2010. I’m so psyched over the fact I can actually attend some of these events live.

  2. solo_1
    Feb 28, 2006 @ 16:10:00

    That must have been a very cool couple of weeks & would actually make going to work fun, but I guess now it’s over it’s kinda of a drag….

    Unfortunately I missed most of the Olympics due to our sattelite TV being out & it is just not the same to read about it on the internet.

    I am very much hoping to be in London when they host the 2012 games…I have never seen the Olympics live and having family there makes this once in a lifetime chance so much more possible….

  3. anonymous
    Mar 07, 2006 @ 17:28:04

    OK, so just where in all that crap you guys were slinging was anything that wasn’t fugly? I mean, the sheepskin caps? The ill-fitting tuques? The ubiquitous HBC logos, to which the world outside of Canada raised a collective “wha?”

    On the bright side, it was a great games and me and Mrs. Dwarf were glued to the TV as much as we could. My favourite moment – Clara Hughes, lying on the track, practically sucking her back through her shoulder blades in an effort to get oxygen down to where the pain lived, and then bouncing back to haul Cindy onto the platform and belt out “O Canada” like a couple of high school girls who just won the big game. I still get a little choked up thinking about it.

    Joe Dwarf

  4. shoebox2
    Mar 07, 2006 @ 21:14:38

    *is serene*

    Scoff all you like, unbeliever, but the fact is we not only garnered accolades from every design critic going, and surpassed all domestic sales expectations…we were the unabashed – I’m talking Roots-esque – hit of the Turin gift shops.
    The sheepskin hats in particular flew out the door of ‘BC House’ faster than we could stuff them in there; by the end of the Games our crew were literally down to a couple pairs of sweatpants. The papers devoted entire major articles-worth of Olympic coverage to Hbs the Design Phenomenon. The head of the design team wound up photographing three separate mink-coated matrons sporting trapper hats…

    Ahem. Yeah, that was a nice moment. I think the one that’s stuck hardest with me was Jeffrey Buttle – whom I don’t think could fake an emotion if he tried – standing there literally motionless in front of the monitor showing his last two rivals. To hell with gracious just-glad-to-be-here sportsmanship; if that last judging session had gone on much longer I don’t think there would’ve been a live Buttle to give the bronze to.

  5. anonymous
    Mar 08, 2006 @ 10:37:18

    Hmmm… had to go to the local Bay around the first or second day and was talking to a clerk, who agreed with me that the hats were super-ugly but also noted they were selling very well indeed.

    In other news, saw Hedley last night and… liked it. Full-ish review up on TWoP.

    JD/MoH

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