Hashtag Throwback Thursday. Here is a photograph of me lifting my brother’s weights in the summer of 1979. The east side of the Buffalo, New York of my later youth was much changed from the place where my parents had grown up. The clean streets grew dingy. The once mighty and robust Buffalo economy that built the teeming neighborhoods of first and second generation immigrants reeled from manufacturing job loss and the energy crisis. Businesses shuttered. People moved away. The corner bars were covered in the elbows of those who used to make things with their hands. The deindustrialization of the northeast was occurring around us but our reality was not the same as our parents. For them, the hulking hull of the giant Bethlehem Steel plant that lay empty on the shore of Lake Erie was a harbinger of hard times. A billboard read, “Will the last worker out of Western New York Please Turn out the Light.” This was during the time of the end of the career of Muhammed Ali and the rise of Leon Spinks, Roberto Duran, and Sugar Ray Leonard. The floating of the butterfly succumbed to the missing front teeth from a brick to the mouth of Spinks, to the hands of stone of Duran. In much the same way this was occurring in our neighborhood. The beauty was replaced with an ugliness. My brothers were on the train tracks with balled fists. The hardness of the time was all around us. In our street hockey games, the cars would come down and the game would be suspended, the nets moved, to let the car pass. The exhaust darkening the snow. The white turning charcoal. The oil trucks tumbled down the street and stopped. The beleaguered operator in oily overalls would pull the hose to deliver the heating oil through the hookup on the side of the house to the furnace. The home owners coming out and saying with their hands in their empty pockets, just half, just half, hoping it would last if they conserved. If they pinched and saved or if the winter wasn’t too harsh, but it always was. We would pull the nets back into the street and resume the game until we dropped the gloves and fought like hockey players should. In the summer we lifted weights in our yards. We went shirtless and took on a new, tough language. We swore and spit and made many small fires. We were erasing and erasing and erasing instead of creating. We mocked the Polish accents of the elderly and smoked stolen cigarettes. The light of summer highlighted the emptiness and then the wind shifted from the north and it snowed and we put on our tired jackets and pulled the nets into the street. Our sticks scraped through the thin snow and clicked and scratched along the concrete. Bodies clashed in checks, bone on bone, hardness and anger and desperation in every hit. But within it. In the hopelessness of the loss of jobs for those who use to make things, in the shuttered businesses and bloodied knuckles, there was still that old sense of things. That through the harshness comes something smoother and easier. It was in those moments, when we were all bone and sinew, that we became Wayne Gretzky. For long moments we stopped erasing and created instead. We became adept at dodging checks and anticipating where the puck would be and executing the right move at the right time, and in that way we became graceful again. We moved and looked and saw. We moved through the dinginess and saw in it our own beauty. The men coming home from the bars, still unemployed, stopped and watched, and saw it too. Maybe even saw themselves in a group of kids who yelled car and stopped and moved the net to let the intrusion pass before going back to the game. To the perfect pass and a stick handle and score. The harshness tinged with kindness and grace. The strength of who were, where we came from, and where we would go.