by Sean Penn
Disclosure: Some names have had
to be changed, locations not named, and an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject's approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.
"If you don't think too good, don't think too much." - Red Sox legend Ted Williams.
It's September 15th, 2015, two days before the opening of training camp. My head is swimming, the man I'm looking to meet has no phone, no e-mail address, and a street address for a house that hasn't stood in 30 years. It's a clandestine mission for the single most sports illiterate man left standing. At 55 years old, I've never watched a game of any kind. Do teams still have coaches? No friggin' idea! Yet here I am, sitting in my room at a New England bed and breakfast with my colleague and new brother in arms, "Mahty Pahty."
Mahty Pahty has traveled many roads, but none as dangerous as the one we are now approaching. Mahty Pahty is the gerbil who burrows among cobras. Whether he's standing in the midst of the mansions of Newport, a dive bar in Scituate or a community rink in Woonsocket, his self-effacing former jock charm has a way of defusing threat. As we exit onto Main Street, the sidewalk is lined with the bucolic charms of old New England; kids playing baseball, the shrill accents cutting, a Cliff Clavin on every corner. Paradoxical indeed, as one among the Clavins - and the mayor of this town - asks if I will take a selfie with him as he quizzes me about the director of photography on my 1986 film Shanghai Surprise (it was Ernest Vincze).
Flash frame: Why is this a paradox? It's paradoxical because today's New England has many mayors. And among those many mayors, it is the official unofficial one who Mahty Pahty and I were planning to see as we'd spoken in whispered code upstairs. It is this "mayor" who necessitated weeks of intense, incognito searching. It's a man of less than my age, though absent any human calculus that may provide us a sense of anchored commonality. At four years old, in '64, I was winning imaginary Oscars in my parents' middle class home in Hollywood's backyard while at the same age, he was hand-drawing breakout passes and devising hockey strategy well beyond his years. And while I was surfing the waves of Malibu at age nine, he was already working in the rinks and on the ponds of the most hardscrabble corners of Cranston, Rhode Island. Today, he runs a National Hockey League team moving to tony Brooklyn and expected by all to exceed even the magnificent season they just finished.
They call him El Cappy. Or "Coach." John "Jack" Archivaldo Guzmán Capuano. The same El Cappy who only months earlier stunned the world by becoming the fourth coach in New York Islanders history to lead the team to the playoffs twice. This is the same El Cappy whom no one truly seems to understand. His system is a closely-guarded secret known only to his trusted assistants and his players. His longevity and elusiveness have been the subject of much speculation. His pregame speeches are legendary. His hair defies explanation.
I take no pride in keeping secrets that may be perceived as macho grandstanding, nor do I have any gloating arrogance at posing for selfies with invasive small town politicians. But I'm in my rhythm. Everything I say to everyone must be true. The trust that El Cappy had extended to us was not to be jeopardized. This will be the first interview El Cappy had ever granted at his secret, strategic Rhode Island hiding place. I'd seen plenty of video and graphic photography of those beheaded, exploded, dismembered or bullet-riddled fans, courageous journalists, Islanders rivals and innocents alike who have tried to locate or even penetrate El Cappy's concealed fortress and learn what makes his teams tick. I was highly aware of committed NHL, AHL and other hockey league officials, both Canadian and American, who had lost their lives searching for his compound.
It was still several hours into the woods before any sign we were getting closer. Then, strangers appear as if from nowhere, onto the dirt track, checking in with Mahty Pahty and exchanging secret code words. We move on, one check point after another, one breadcrumb at a time. Small duck blinds, hunting lodges and and fishing shacks materialize; the probing, protective eyes of the woodsmen and women relax at a knowing wave or word from Mahty Pahty. Cellphones are of no use here, as electricity and amenities have not reached this barren stretch of the Northeast perhaps ever. This is just the way El Cappy likes it.
We'd left New York at 6 a.m. By 4 p.m. on the dash clock we arrive at a thicket-enclosed inlet where several small boats are docked. I am no sailor, but the spot has the signs of being a private, off-the-grid set-up. Mahty Pahty has explained that the dock is movable, for when El Cappy feels his sanctuary has been compromised. A small crew of men hover. On a knoll above, I see a few weathered bungalows. I get out of the truck, search the faces of the men for approval that I may walk to the trunk to secure my valise. Nods follow. I move. And, when I do...there he is. Right beside the truck. The NHL's most mysterious, misunderstood and - in some circles - feared and hated head coach: El Cappy.
"Yo, Spicoli," he bellows in his thick New England brogue. Normally, in my wild and arrogant youth, anyone calling me by the name of the character I played in Fast Times at Ridgemont High would have received a beating they wouldn't forget. And I would spend a night at a nearby police station. But I dare not disturb or upset this man I have come so far to see and learn from. I nod but say nothing. It seems to set him at ease. He turns to the men and puts his hand on my shoulder. "Oh shit! You guys know who this guy is? Spicoli! From that movie... with the girl in the pool?! This is unbelievable. I love that friggin' movie."
He turns to me with a hospitable smile, putting out his outstretched hand. I take it. He pulls me into a "compadre" hug, looks me in the eyes and speaks: "The hell are you doin' all the way out here?"
Update: Jack Capuano is currently being held for questioning about the Islanders' underwhelming and inconsistent performance this season. Sean Penn and former NHLer Marty "Mahty Pahty" Reasoner are also under investigation by the NHL and FBI.
To read the full interview, pick up a copy of the January 15th edition of Rolling Stone magazine or read the online version at http://www.rollingstone.com/El-Cappy-Speaks-to-Sean-Penn-for-Some-Reason.html.
This is not real. It is a parody of this, in case you somehow missed it. The truth is even stranger than Sean Penn interviewing Jack Capuano. The character of Mahty Pahty was created by community member Les Beaver.