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Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Updated: October 28, 2:51 PM ET
Lockout reaches a comfort level

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

Serge Touchette, who has been writing sports in Montreal since Quebec had a governor general and understands his town like few people understand theirs, is writing fake game stories on the Canadiens for the Journal de Montreal.

He says it's going over really well. But doubts he can make it to Christmas.

At least he's found a way to kill a little bit of the front end of the Ice Age.

Meanwhile, at the Bettman house ...

"Gary, can you get the laundry out of the dryer? Oh, and we need to make a grocery run later ... Can you do me a favor and ... what? You're on a long distance call to Ottawa for what? They're not doing anything today. They didn't do anything yesterday. They're not going to do anything tomorrow. Now if you're going to be home every day, do something useful. Either that, or go volunteer at the library, or become a Wal-Mart greeter or something. Jumping Jesus, I am sick to death of you sitting there at the kitchen table in your underwear drinking cold coffee and reading the ..."

And with that vision spurring everyone on, we enter the seventh week of Nothing Whatsoever: The Musical.

By now, every angle of Nothing Whatsoever has been pretty well plowed over. The World Cup ... the European exodus ... the hard time in Buffalo ... and now, Bettman in his shorts. The next image you conjure up is entirely on you.

But we are entering a new phase now, one in which everyone is now comfortable with things as they are. Touchette knows his gloriously popular gimmick works only on borrowed time, plus he's about to use his own Claude Julien-in-his-underwear angle.

But because NW:TM is playing out just as everyone other than the thoroughly delusional thought it would, it is playing out like all good plays. We are now comfortable with the lines, the scenery and the costumes. We aren't particularly married to any of the characters any more, largely because they're all starting to look more like Jason Alexander and less like Stockard Channing.

It's just something we don't have to do any more, because we've already seen the play.

Meanwhile, over at the Bettman house ...

"Gary, I need the phone ... Gary, I promised my mother I would call her ... Gary, you can talk to Bill Wirtz any time. In fact, you do talk to him any time. HEY BILL, ARE YOU SITTING AT THE BREAKFAST TABLE IN YOUR UNDERWEAR LIKE MY HUSBAND IS?"

The proof of our comfort comes in the fact that you never read any quotes from either side any more. Granted, journalism has always been overly married to the idea of what people say rather than the essentially truth of what they believe or who they are, but media people will usually take anything they can get.

These days, they just pass. They know that you don't go to the theatre and get handed a screenplay; you're expected as an audience member to pay attention and catch up. And if you've seen the play often enough, you learn the songs, and then the dialogue, and then one day you're taking the kids to school and singing to yourself, "Springtime for Hitler, and Germany, winter for Holland and France ..."

And that's why your kids don't talk to you any more.

Meanwhile, over at the Bettman house ...

"No, I don't want to go to dinner with the Dalys again. We go out, you and Bob talk about the lockout, and we're stuck making small talk while you're cutting your steak and pretending it's Goodenow's spleen. Why don't we just go out ourselves? One time? Please."

Anyway, we're at the stage with NW:TM that we know all the words, and we have nothing left to learn. We've all sought out other pastimes, other time-wasters, other ways to fill whatever void the game has left.

In Montreal, say, who's leading the Crypto-Atlantic Division after the Faux-Canadiens tied the Pretend-ators in Nashville. Christmas is coming faster than anyone realizes, and our pal Serge is going to have to come up with something else, soon, like ice-fishing road trips to Chicoutimi.

Meanwhile, over at the Bettman house ...

"I SWEAR TO GOD, I AM GOING TO CALL GOODWILL AND HAVE THEM HAUL OFF THAT BREAKFAST TABLE, THE CHAIRS, AND YOU! AND GET SOME PANTS ON SO YOU'RE AT LEAST DECENT WHEN THEY THROW YOU IN THE BACK OF THE TRUCK!"

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com