Football is Life

Portland, OR

“We completely undervalue curiosity” I was nearly shouting as I shouldered in through the door, talking back towards Roy who closely followed on the balls of his feet, his long arm reaching up to keep the door open long enough to enter. Inside the place was buzzing, and a chorus of voices poured into the street as we passed through the heavy door which had served as an impressive muffler.

We had found this SE bar, “the Crush”, on the corner of 14th and Morrison years ago when it was still largely undiscovered from the Sunday brunch crowd. A normal Sunday would have a few patrons bellied up at the long, well stocked bar, and maybe a couple more dining at tables on the open floor plan, but today was entirely different. Today was Olympic quarterfinal soccer. The woman’s match featuring the United States and the Netherlands; a highly anticipated rematch of the 2019 World Cup championship. Having watched most of the matches thus far, this was an event worth getting out of bed for to share with a crowd. Roy was down to join. There were rented TVs on wheeled stands positioned strategically around the room in this typically single TV bar. People were into the occasion; the Olympics were broadcasting throughout the world, uniting viewers with a giant spike of patriotism. My imagination flashed to what Amsterdam bars might be like at that very moment.

“Imagine the effects of replacing judgments with wonder and curiosity? Of actually looking and receiving experience as little Roy must have when he was first building reality?” I trailed off, plowing slowly through the crowd, towards a vacant table near the deep center. Our exchange yielded to the demands of the crowded barroom floor dexterity we were employing. Life was opened up in wonder to each of us, I thought, as we navigated the crowd, entranced, keeping our own pace. That’s the great thing about bars. It’s not quite private, as you’re out in public, but even public spaces observe social boundaries between groups, albeit with different levels of fickleness. In that energized space, you phase in and out of solitude, but you do so out in the open, among others you may or may not interact with. Anything can happen. Everybody is celebrity.

For me, “the Crush” had a healthy night life but also served as a great day drinking spot. Day drinking that had a nice light balance in the front room. Rich sunlight pouring in through the glass, avoiding that dim depression of filtered daylight but still affording layered shadow levels to deepen the bright red interior. The vibe in 8 hours would be completely different, softly lit, strobe lights, drag queens…but the future takes care of itself. The menu was glanced at as a token gesture, but “the crush” had a go to cocktail: the Carlottas’ Sidecar. Served in a martini glass, this tart gin drink had an orange/lemon base and sugared rim. It was an elegant role model for your basic mimosa and had the pleasure of the flamboyant presence it afforded the table. Traditionally, the sidecar is made with brandy or cognac, triple sec, fresh lemon juice, and garnished with a twist of citrus. Whatever the proper recipe, this duo cheered with a clang of the glass having secured a small round table amid the fray to continue the Conversation while also keeping an eye on the game.

“Imagine the effects of replacing judgments with wonder and curiosity, you were saying” “The one has striving, and ego wrapped into it, and the other a free breath of letting come and go; unpossessed.” A sip, maintaining eye contact over the consumed beverage. “Mmmm, …ahh” the sidecar was good. We picked up the narrative, leaning in to talk excitedly and slouching back to think during the pauses, then leaning in suddenly, the other matching the quick lean in order to hear and respond. A couple of brains doing the synchronized freestyle scholar routine. “Apply that to people” I challenged, gesturing with my head to nobody in particular. “To meet another person, with all their own agency; what mysteries lie within them! How unpredictable the words and places we may go together on the whim of fate.” Roy said, eyes shining. People were still arriving and filling the vacant tables around us even though we were already in the twenty third minute. “We’re so used to encountering and being encountered as caricatures, finished, and one dimensional. As bad role players of waiter, brother, boyfriend, neighbor, boss…it dictates the words we say and the places we go.” Roy looked like he disgusted himself with the thought as he looked down into his glass. Looking on the bright side of the situation I offered another spin of the gem. “What is there in clashing personalities, that are “already figured out” or “closed”, is humor at the absurdity hidden from their own eyes. Like a Christopher Guest movie, with these developed idiosyncratic characters all crashing into each other…” GOAL! The surrounding yells commanded attention and we lifted our voices and arms with the others in celebration. “To think of the waste of closed minds meeting and never allowing the other to affect them.” I think as I high five my neighbors. These were damn good drinks and going down all too easy.

Roy put a coaster over his glass, universal bar language that one will be right back so don’t bus out this drink and don’t take this seat, to duck out and grab a book from his van. This local haunt shared the same block as the privately infamous Belmont Court apartments, whose well storied walls connected a dynamic constellation of four rooms we collectively resided and/or flopped at. Both of us were prior tenets that had once lived on opposite sides of the buildings enclosed parking lot. Two bars capped the west side of the block. “The Crush” and “the Squeeze”. How these independently named bars became neighbors was nothing less than poetic serendipity, unless of course you were a citrus wedge. If you were a slice of lime, then your last sight would be entering one of these red bricked establishments, both crowned in foliage and custom sized windows, to meet your end at the bottom of some squeezed or crushed drink, perhaps during a happy hour. Or maybe ride the rim of the glassware as a garnish, taken from the practiced hand of the bartender to your less skilled executioner of brash patron.

My attention settled into the soccer match. You could, by advantage of the aerial camera, see the plays develop, the spaces created between the opponents, and the passes to be made as they moved the ball around. The ball flowed in this seemingly destined way. I saw where I thought the pass should be made and it was done. It was delightful to see the right wing make a sudden run and the halfback try and lead her destination with a pass. This camera, it’s a gods eye view from above, much unlike my own memories of playing for a quaint urban school. The view from the field had been much harder to see where the play should go, but these pros would keep their space and know the anticipated runs to make. They wouldn’t just bunch around the ball or boot it ahead while everyone chases it. I remember Coach Merloff yelling at us to not clot up, as if we were congealing blood cells, which did get some extra mileage as the “Warriors” uniforms were a deep red in color.

I started listening to a woman’s voice from a near table. “Look how they send the ball backwards so often to keep that rhythm and create the opening to attack. Both teams want the ball to go a certain direction into the net, yet in order to do that the best, they have to move the ball in the opposite direction” I pipe up “if only we could learn this lesson when discussing politics” “what?” she said laughing good naturedly “oh, I just agree with you, that’s interesting” I said raising my near empty glass in her table’s direction. A passerby clinks his glass against my offering as he moves past and flashes a toothy grin over his shoulder. I turned back to her, as she continues now to whoever is listening. “…just so ugly, and sloppy when they just charge in only the direction they are trying to score in, single-mindedly; bull headed.”

Roy returned smiling with Isy hopping behind, regaled in “Team USA” tee and white tennis sweatband on forehead and a red, white, and blue wristband. “You guys love drinking in gay bars…” he said saddling a chair and looking away to the side before suddenly looking back with wide eyes and chipped tooth. “…and so do I!” Roy was flagging the waitress walking nearby as I pawed at the book he had recklessly slid my direction: “We Need to Talk about Kevin.” The book was a stark departure from his normal catalogue of philosophy, music, or poetry. I raised my eyebrow at a Roy who was half turned in conversation with the waitress, but always aware of everybody. He saw me, his torso and seemingly immobile neck had gone into quick motion. Fluidly, he shot a raunchy look at the book and waved his hand at me as if to say “don’t worry about that.” As he twisted himself back to our order, he outstretched his arm while rolling his finger clockwise to signal me to look closer. I spotted an old plane ticket stub to Manilla he was using as a bookmark and opened to the page. Here was underlined: “We are all pretty much restricted to learning what people are like with the permanent confound of our own presence.” I read it again aloud. Roy was back, “Adriannas” he said tersely, answering where the book came from “but that’s a fuckin wild concept huh?” he continued. “Yeah man, that’s full circle, the judgments about others can never NOT be tainted by my own import”.

Adrianna would not be joining I knew for I had imported my own tainted judgment to her doorstep, well to her toilet more accurately. I had never heard her so angry or loud. “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST WARA!”. She had found the shocking sight of my unflushed turd that I was hoping to sabotage Roy with earlier in the weekend during an inspired flash of bad taste. Talk about truly being on someone’s shit list, I muttered to myself knowing I was without vindication.

This Sunday mid-morning felt like a Friday or Saturday night in this place. Not much beats the comfort of a bar for banter and following the rabbit trails of conversation with old friends. Pairs nicely with the rattle of ice cubes and the purchase of another round for the table, thus steering the fate of all passengers for the long haul. What starts as day drinking can easily slip and slide to an unremembered end, I reminded myself.

“You can’t be cool by trying to be and you only have so much focus and intent. Which means I’ve spent a great deal of my energy not being cool as a consequence of trying, and therefore, not interesting, helpful, or intelligent as opportunity cost. Even humor has false feedback.” I was thinking clearly, and the watering hole therapy session of impromptu realizations was in full session. “When you meet a good-natured person, who laughs at your esoteric reference… they are still trying to figure out where you’re coming from ready to interact with you and life, ready to build a moment…, but I can selfishly take the laugh not as a prompt, but as crowns of praise for my individual efforts. The trying that falls short and misses the cues from the others. The airs you take when the camera is rolling. The cringe that your performance causes you on playback.” I was in danger of fracturing out into too many directions in full animation. My mind felt like frayed, brilliant, fiber optics. “I mean, does just everybody use a skelator voice or is it just cause they’re around me?” I had taken a hairpin turn and I’m not sure if anyone could follow but knowing somehow everything was connected. “I hate how the camera freezes me, like an unknown audience. Perhaps we should just run cameras all the time so I can just get over it and be natural.” a pause filled by a rushed sip. “I’ve got to get over the observer affect.” I landed on. “You know, the one where an experiment is altered because it is being observed. “ a woman’s voice stated.

Of course she was dead right, as my earlier football acquaintance a table away was scooting closer to our table as the limits of formality were being stressed. “Lilly ‘knuckles’” she stated offering her hand. I was impressed at her smooth infiltration of our table and of my ramblings. “Wara, Izzy, Roy” Roy replied pointing to each in turn as we exchanged friendly handshakes. Turns out, our merging guest comes with the whole group of roller derby teammates. These were tough gals, with that blue collar grit in the way they drank their beer like they earned them. Lilly had an almost little girl femininity with her neon pink nail polish and face glitter blush over well inked sleeves and facial piercings. Think: Sailor Moon with a dirty skull print bandana for a necklace and a well worn flask of whisky in her garter. “Lilly’s likely not camera shy”, Isy whispered into my ear, during another uproar from action on the soccer pitch. We shared a private laugh, like two actors in a silent movie, the noise lost in the surrounding clamor. The style which embraced obvious paradox was quite charming a few drinks in and she likely wouldn’t give a fuck if it weren’t anyway.

Upon slowly looking around, the individual elements of the room were colliding into new and unique molecules. The simplicity of the booze was certainly corralling the spectrum of desire and reservation for those present. The addition of our neighbors spelled the death of philosophy, but on the plus side, there would be time for the lighter issues of discussion. Like the asinine hand dance that you must do in front of the bathrooms’ motion activated faucets. I think they were calibrated for a season of candid camera and never turned back to proper operation. One wouldn’t turn on at all, and the next one would turn on for a mere second or two begore turning back off. The third, you had to keep your hand way too high, and splash water all over the counter in the process. Gina, another of our tattooed additions stood up violently to reveal the wet line high on her waste where her fanny pack hadn’t protested her multiple layered shirts. “So you were the one to leave all that water on the bathroom counter!” Bathrooms here were unisex, deep fully private stalls, and a row of dark sinks opposite. “I’m a wrecking ball” I replied as I slowly stood up, my palms raised at the waist, shoulders shrugged, poised like an ascending no neck Christ. I did an awkward curtsey with side smile once I fully arrived to my feet. “Here, even the score” Isy suggested loudly, sliding a glass of melting ice with a twinkle in his eye. No sooner had the glass been delivered than I found my shirt being tugged open from the collar and the contents being slam dunked in a cascade of cold and sticky wet laughter.

It was a short downhill stumble towards the river and to the Morrison, where I’d go in search of Vic, but instead found his old bunk mate, GH. I didn’t know him from Adam at the time and didn’t put the pieces together until days later upon a house call. Tonight, we were just two strangers at the bar, a couple seats in between and a few other patrons littered about. GH sat with his tumbler of Tequila, me with my Victory prima pils. We didn’t so much talk to each other, but to the TV. The boys had lingered behind, wrapped up in a dollar ante dice game called “ship, captain, crew”, but assuredly to follow. We were watching gymnastics, and laughing, doing voice overs and commentary for the coverage. It was mystery science theatre that started funny and escalated to hilarious. A beautiful scene that itself became like a game of comedic tennis; one which was attended to gleefully, and occasionally participated in, by the whole crowd. But the comedic muse was mainly flowing from this beefy ginger and I. It was the Olympics grabbing our attention, and uniting people in the process. Blurring the line between barkeep and barfly, loosening the conversation to whoever was nearby, bringing end of the night comradery without quite as much of the slurring and leaning on shoulders that 2am sees. By the time the crew rolled in, GH had moved from peripheral colleague to a well-earned clink of the glass and a nod as I moved off my stool and briefly his direction before turning to join the table out front. “Been a pleasure working with you this evening young man.”

The confounder in each scenario refers to the factor that affects the results of an experiment. To meet another person is never to see them as they are, but through the permanent confines of our own presence. The confounding experience usually involves a number of complex feelings, perhaps conflicting, accompanied by a sense of confusion. This was certainly the case for our scene around the outside table of the MoHo, door propped open, music pouring out. The trick is to always move spots when you start getting sloppy, and to keep your shit together when you order your first drink.

“NO, Coldplay, is just Radiohead on a shitty day, that’s my point, and I’ll prove it. The real question is what is the best Radiohead album?” The day was turning dusk, and long ago the woman’s soccer team had won, and while many had settled their tab, our slice of space and time was still kicking in this new venue. While we pondered the question, Isy started plugging the juke box, picking a few songs from “In Rainbows” then a couple song from “A Rush of blood to the head”. “Reckoner” kicked in, then “House of Cards”, “Jigsaw falling into place” followed. “goddam, this has got to be their best record” I offered. I am sitting as if I were a pile of cranberry sauce. “Now you have to hear Coldplay in succession” Isy says, pulling me in with a half hug. As he holds my boneless frame tight for a moment, he turns his head to take a drag of a Camel Red and blow it up into the night sky. He then sprung to his feet, releasing me to my slump and was off hollering after somebody. “Daylight” started in and the recognition of a new band wasn’t immediately obvious. It seemed the melancholy was turned up a bit, but still good. Then the title song for Coldplay, yes it seems like if these past five songs were all on the same album, it would have really dropped off here at the end. While music is a buffet and I see no reason to get snobby over it, I could see the truth in the badgers assessment; this was the same game, different leagues. I wanted to tell him as much many times, perhaps I did.

Things were starting to fray, day drinking after a weekend of the sauce puts you back on the autobahn much quicker. Many of us were standing now, a sign of the next phase of energy. The zeitgeist of the bar itself had that electric coming together that only the Olympics seem to bring out. The Olympics at a common house; tribalism at its most cordial. Circled in a group, I start making a case for conspiracy theory being a new religion when Roy barges in with arms thrown around my, and the guy with the tweed flat cap to my lefts, neck with a 90 mph start of his own non sequitur. He bends his knees to accommodate the height difference and leans forward braced upon us like a yoke on two oxen. This kind of imbibe has a way of turning all my friends into fellow east coasters in conversation style, which I love. “You know, the only way to successfully hunt a house fly is with a hand towel. You gotta whip that bitch!” he began with accompanying hand gestures from around my neck. He turned his head to perform a private and more intimate demonstration of the technique for me as the Englishman escaped his grasp. Roy didn’t take notice as he shifted his weight and heavy eyes to me, with a lowered and more subdued “whip that guy”, delivered with a slight lisp and partial animation to his voice. “House flies huh?” was all the encouragement (from the girl Isy was engaged in a flirty two step with) needed for him to rev right back up to a full fury. “you gotta flick the towel, like in the locker room when you see your buddy walking by, otherwise they’ll see your hand coming a mile away.” The scene ended with my 300lb cousin Dingus entering the fray and landing a nut tap that nearly toppled both Roy and I. “Like this Rougys?” he had gleefully shouted before the treachery was executed.
It was time to go and walk it off. Time to find some food. Burritos! That would be the ticket I thought before realizing my legs were already in motion.

Sometimes in late drunkenness, you realize that you fall short of your intentions. You don’t know how you fucked up, or why. There isn’t always a takeaway because you don’t always do something wrong in order to experience things going wrong. Unless of course, the drinks were what you’ve done wrong, but then, sometimes it takes ingesting the poison to discover what could be the antidote. And if you’re going to withstand the venom, you’d better be as tough as a horse. Also, beware of fragile things, like salt and pepper shakers or imported glass vases from Mexico if you try and towel whip a fruit fly with your napkin. That night I had a dream. I was sitting at the bar talking out loud to nobody about the observer affect and how adding one person to the group changes the whole dynamic. A short, attractive woman appeared, Indian, or Romanian, or some unidentifiable mix, with a blue gnomes cap but security guard clothing. She said something to me I’ll never remember, but it left me with a feeling of peace.

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