In this happy, nothing-is-none-of-our-business age of information without context, nothing is a secret and everything is public knowledge. Who you dance with, who you sleep with, who you negotiate with, who you swindle, who swindles you.
Your life is an open book, and the editing is done with a hatchet.
|Jacques Demers brought home the Cup trophy to Montreal in 1993. (AP)|
Demers is the long-time National Hockey League coach (Quebec, Montreal, St. Louis, Detroit, Tampa Bay) who is now an analyst on the French-Canadian version of TSN, which is the Anglo-Canadian version of ESPN. He has a Stanley Cup ring. He is, by any measure, a profoundly successful hockey man.
And now he also announces that he kept a secret for over 30 years -- that he can't read.
That Demers succeeded in any endeavor despite this intellectually crippling shortcoming is a remarkable achievement -- and please, spare us the clever, "Well, it was just hockey players" jokes. You want a hockey joke, work on the one about the minor-league goon who got workman's comp after injuring his shoulder in a fight.
Now that's funny.
Illiteracy, on the other hand, really isn't. Illiteracy is just not an option for anyone who wants to be a functional adult, and it wasn't one when he started.
But the truly amazing thing is that he kept the secret as long as he did, from as many people as he interacted with in his adult life. Nobody seems to have known that Jacques Demers couldn't read. They only knew that he could coach, that he could relate to his players and his superiors, that he knew his stuff.
And he knew one other thing -- that the minute his cover was blown, so was his career.
He explains all this in his new book, which can be purchased at a book store or website near you. It is going to be a worthwhile read, and you may reflect on the irony in that sentence at your leisure.
But consider all the coaching tools he could not use, or had to delegate, because he couldn't decipher them. Consider all the people he had to mislead. Consider the times people thought he was lazy or unprepared, and how he knew what they were thinking.
Consider all the energy it took to keep a secret this potentially devastating for so long.
That is, if you can. Me, I can't.
A famous person (either Pope Innocent III or Catherine Zeta-Jones, I forget which) once said that a person should treat a lie like money -- to spend carefully, and as rarely as possible. If you ignore the morality issue (and let's face it, this is sports, where morality is used as a tool only slightly more often than a butter churn), there is some perverted wisdom in that.
But Jacques Demers had to lie every day, in thought, word and deed, to nearly every person he dealt with, just to survive in the business he chose. He should have gone to bed each night in a state of absolute exhaustion.
And the lie was one that would only reflect poorly upon him. It did not harm anyone else; his teams were prepared and energetic, and his employers seemed perfectly happy with his work.
Well, until they fired him.
Then again, you know how that works. Hockey coaches get fired when a general manager's shorts ride up.
But every day and every night, Demers had to bluff and bluff and bluff again. He had to dance as fast as he could just to seem like he was standing still with everyone else. Mark Messier didn't have that kind of stamina, and he played in the league for 63 years.
The best part of this story, though, is that Demers does not write his book either to defend himself or the growth industry of post-computer-age illiteracy. He isn't passing himself as being on to something new and clever. He isn't proud of being a non-reader.
He is, however, proud of the fact that he survived with half his brain tied behind his back, proud of the strength and wit it took to succeed in a cruel world, even for people who tackle Proust on the overnight flight from Edmonton to Vancouver.
If the most literate hockey book ever was Ken Dryden's The Game, the most intriguing is Jacques Demers', for a reason so completely different from Dryden's that it makes one marvel at the fact that they worked in the same industry.
And yet, they did, and there is something noble in each, and in truth, it can be claimed with some justification that Demers' journey was far more difficult than Dryden's.
And either way, it sure beats the workman's comp story.