LETTER FIVE

THE ONE WITH THE FOOTBALL

 

Dear Friend,

You know, I’m sure you’re right about Times Square.  I’ll bet you if you did stand there for a few decades you’d run across that girl again, probably in some other dramatic hat, probably with a map or camera in her hands.  So I have this friend, right.  We’ve been friends for a while, and every so often we bump into each other.  It’s always a little random.  We live pretty far apart and neither of us ever really plans on our paths colliding. And yet, they always seem to.  The funny thing is that more than one of these collisions has happened at Yonge-Bloor subway station. When I was younger and far less creative I thought I’d try writing a cute girl-meets-boy novel. I got about thirty pages into it before I quit and filed it away with all the other unfinished purple fluff I’ve written at one time or another.  There was one line though, and I went to dig it up after I read your letter, that came back to me.  'I stood there, on the crowded platform, Toronto’s own Piazza San Marco, the city’s connective heart, and there she was'.  I’ll bet you every city has one of these connective hearts.  Probably best to avoid them.

 

It’s autumn here in New York, and you know what that means.  Strong coffee, scarves, the gentle rustle of leaves over cracked sidewalks, and those last few patio nights where the stars shine and the air is warm and we all cling to the memory of August! Yeah, that, and football.

As you know a standard Jack & Coke is typically made with 4-5oz of Coke, a jigger of Jack Daniel’s, and ice, all stirred together and served in a lowball glass.  Rum may be used instead for a Cuba Libre.  Vodka may be used instead for a disgusting mistake.

If you’re making a larger batch and using, lets say, 750mls of Coke, then you should use about 8oz (rounding up for good measure) of Jack Daniels to keep the ratios even.  You will, however, need to scratch the ice and pour out some of the Coke first if you want it all to fit back in the plastic bottle.  It throws the ratios off a little, but that’s life.  Why would you want to stuff it all back into the coke bottle? And why am I telling you all this? Because Football, dear friend, that’s why.  Football, in all its ceaseless tedium, is made better through the hardy and willing consumption of booze.  Better, although, as it turns out, still not bearable.  Beer is good, if you’re going for the slow burn—like if you’re at some weekend afternoon football party type thing with corn chips and dip.  Whiskey in a coke bottle, is good, if you’re classy and you just want to get a little fucked up.

I know you were into playing sports when you were younger, but I'm not sure if we've ever talked about football.  I have a very odd relationship with football.  Basically, I completely and utterly from the very depths of my tar-blackened soul loathe it, but I really want to like it.  

Every year I get it in my head that I should become interested in football.  There's something about the fall especially that makes me want to get all school-spirity and into sports.  Personally, I blame early exposure to a particular episode of Friends.  Now that I think about it, early exposure to Friends could actually be blamed for much of my current situation.  I mean, I am in my 20s and living in New York...

So, football.  I've been doing this whole attempt-to-be-interested thing annually, since I was fourteen.  I even watched a whole half of the Super Bowl once.  Lord was it boring.  Was like being fucking waterboarded.  

Last year I thought I’d really buckle down and commit to developing this passion, so I went to a game.  I went alone.  It rained.  I got stung by a wasp.  I ended up two miles away at a bookstore before halftime.  

This year was going to be different.  I really felt that this was the year I would really get into the manly pastime of watching sports!  This was the year I'd understand what all the hype was about.  This was the year I would force myself to get into it.  I don't care how much I’d rather read, or watch Netflix, or re-grout my bathroom.  This year I would enjoy football, goddamnit!

As it happens, there's a football field within walking distance from my house.  Clearly the universe supports this passion.  

The place where I'm living is a bit of geographic anomaly when it comes to the general idea of what New York is like, because I live smack between the hustle of the city and a great big quiet park.

You leave my house and walk for about a minute and you’re at Broadway.  Broadway is busy.  It's all filthy little shops and liquor stores with their stock behind plexiglass partitions. [1]  This side is New York City, or what people think of when they think New York: frantic, dangerous, and alive with a kind of self-propelled and delusional energy that keeps it—and us—lurching ever forward toward some ideal of the American Dream that’s always going to be just a little out of reach.  

Walk down Broadway a little, take the bridge over the Harlem River, and you’re at the very top of Manhattan.  Nestled up there, way up at the northwest corner of Manhattan, is Inwood Park.  It’s a fifteen minute walk from guys on my street corner selling smack, but it couldn’t be more different: trees all in their various shades of autumn, dirt footpaths, rolling hills that must have wandered down from upstate and gotten stuck, even an antique boathouse on the river. [2]  

The football stadium is beside Inwood park.

One of the few perks of my outrageous tuition is free admission to football games.  And again, this year I will enjoy the game.  This year I won't feel like I'm being held at Guantanamo Bay and tortured for information.  

A bottle of mostly-Coke and a novel in my bag, I set out for the field.

Less than five minutes after I found a spot on the bleachers and sat down feeling all eager and hopped up on sugar and whiskey, I came to know three things.  The first was that this was undoubtedly the most American thing that didn't involve an eagle and a gun I could possibly have been doing on a Sunday afternoon.  There was literally a player named Skip Washington.  What the fuck kind of sick parent dooms their child with a name like Skip Washington? There is no way that that kid could not be a douchebag. . . I mean, he’s a star football player at a good college, propably with a scholarship, and I’m just a grumpy fucker writing about him, so he’s got that going for him, I suppose.

The second was that there was no need to be so subtle with my booze.  I could have just brought a sixer and drank it openly, like everyone else.  

The third thing was that jeans, a t-shirt, a blue flannel shirt (Columbia blue, because school spirit, obviously), and a thick university sweatshirt (not Columbia, because I always need to maintain a certain level of ironic detachment) would not be nearly enough to keep me warm through the game.  Fall really was here.  Or, more likely, in entering the stadium, I had passed somehow into a frigid hell dimension.

The weird thing was, no one else seemed to be cold, and most of them were wearing shorts! I've never seen so many square-jawed, Clark Kent-looking motherfuckers in khaki shorts in my whole life.  I know that’s the stereotype, Ivy League white kids in khaki, but I swear to you it’s true.  At least ninety percent of the crowd was wearing khaki.   

I came to know one more thing, though it was a much slower realization.  After watching the first fifteen minutes of the game I started to realize that I have zero understanding of the actual rules or mechanics of football.  I know I’ve learned the rules before.  I remember watching a youtube tutorial on it.  More than once… But I was watching, and people were cheering, and I didn't have a goddamn clue what was happening.  I guess football’s like all those French verb conjugations I learned in school—somethings just don’t stick.  

After an hour I was thoroughly confused, I was bored, I probably had pneumonia, and I was out of booze and not nearly drunk.  And yet somehow we were still in the first period, or inning—or whatever the fuck it is in football.  Time had broken down.  10 minutes on the big light-up scoreboard took at least forty minutes to tick down.  I’d slipped into a hell dimension, I'm telling you. 

I bought myself a pretzel and watched for another twenty minutes, (fourteen seconds of game time), then decided that football wasn’t for me.  I think I’ll try again next year. 

Talk soon? Your friend,

Henry

 
P.S. Are you dressing up for Halloween?

 

NOTES:

  1. In rereading it occurred to me that I should actually talk about these too, while I have you here. Going to the LCBO back home is genuinely one of my favourite things to do. I know that there are some shitty liquor stores around—looking at you Brimley Rd—but, in general, Toronto has some pretty great liquor stores. Now, I’ll admit that it is lovely to be able to buy beer at the grocery store here. Beer at the supermarket is something we should immediately start doing in Canada. The only downside to it is that a person may find themselves drinking way more beer than they’d really like, but I wouldn’t know anything about that... 
    With the exception of a few fancy wine stores, every liquor stores here in New York is horrible. They’re all super dodgy, and every time I’ve gone to one I swear to god I’ve felt like I was buying drugs. 
    This liquor store, near my house, was a real strange experience for me the first time I walked in. I’d never been to one of these shops where you have to tell the guy there what you want and then slide him some cash through a hole in the plexiglas partition, like you’re buying subway tokens. The guy then puts your bottle in a black bag, which I think is meant to be inconspicuous but achieves the exact opposite, and then passes it to you through this revolving box thing. Honestly, it feels like a guard give you a food tray in a max security prison.

    The first time I went there, I didn’t realize that the partitions were a security thing. I thought that it was just a really weird interior design choice. So I tried doing what I imagine any sensible person would do: I tried to casually walk through the ‘employees only’ door (which wasn’t marked, in my defence) to take a closer look at the stock. Took about fifteen minutes to explain to the people working there that I wasn’t actually trying to steal anything.

    We get on fairly well now, the liquor store staff and I. There's one guy in particular, who has become something of a friend of mine, although I really can't remember his name. He did introduce himself to me once. When someone introduces themselves I like to shake hands with them. Helps me remember them. The plexiglas partition of course prevented this. Without that handshake his name vanished to join the French verbs and the rules of football. He's a good guy though, and he always seems to be working when I go to the shop. By now he knows what I like, red, robust, and less than six bucks.
    Having a liquor store so close to home has created a little idiom in my house: 'A black bag kind of day'. Someone, usually me or Jerome, will come home with a black bag tucked under one arm and whomever is in the kitchen (because there's always at least one person in the kitchen) will say, ‘A black bag kind of day?’ Our great house of scoundrel artists has many black bag days. We’re all really looking forward to the inevitable liver psoriasis.

     
  2. There's also this giant letter “C” painted on the side of a bluff overlooking the river. It looks like someone ripped it off one of the Columbia letterman jackets and just stuck it there. That makes me think, my highschool didn't have letterman jackets. Did yours?
    The "C" is of course the perfect backdrop for the rowers who are out on the river practicing in the morning. It's also a bit of a "fuck you" to anyone who comes to the park in the hopes of getting away from the city, in the same way that the sight of a beer can or signpost is when you find one deep in the forest and suddenly remember that you aren't really that far from civilization at all.