My mother phoned long distance a couple of months ago - I guess I hadn't called her for at least five days and my wife picked up the phone.

"Where's Lenny? asked my mother.

"He's out playing hockey," said my wife.

"Meshugganah," said my mother, mumbling something about having me call back - not collect - when the bleeding stopped.

Meshugganah, for those uninitiated in the joys of Yiddish, can be roughly translated to the description in English of someone with a few loose screws upstairs, as in whacko.

My mother, the worrier, has never been able to understand my strange interest in serving as live target - as in ice hockey goalie - for people shooting hard rubber discs near my head at 80 miles an hour.

I first started playing in my early teens, but never bothered to tell her. "I'm just going skating," I would say.

It worked for a few weeks, but she started becoming suspicious.The phone books - the think Nassau County directory and the Manhattan yellow pages - were always missing. And so were the sofa cushions. I didn't have the heart to tell her they were my goalie pads.

When she saw me sneaking out of the house one day with my iceskates, a catcher's glove and mask, two old feather pillows and my Sherwood goalie stick - the only legitimate piece of equipment I owned - I had to confess.

"Meshugganah," she said then, and "meshugganah" she says now.

"I'm playing again in the Potomac senior men's over-35 league. Every Thursday night, 30 over the hill types, mostly former high school and college players, show up at Tysons ice Arena for two hours of scrimmaging.

There's no checking and no slap-shooting, but everything else is for real. My first night, I came out of the goal to make a save, and the butt end of my stick popped up and drew blood from an opposing winger, a man surely in his early 50s.

I could imagine him going off to work the following day, trying to explain the three-stitch cut on the bridge of his nose to his secretary.

"Got it in a hockey game," he'd tell her, with his chest puffed out, no doubt, and a macho smile on his face.

I wear my welts proudly, and I'm not even sure why. I do know I have become something of a hockey freak again. Last week, I even put a down payment on the first set of goalie pads I've ever owned.

"I've got it all now, chest protector gloves, padded pants, suspenders, three sticks and the all-important protective cup.

I also have a genuine Jacques Plante goalie mask. My parents gave it to me for Hanukah.

Crazy? No Meshugganah.