Like most people, I do my share of complaining. When I go too far I’m reminded that I’ve actually been dealt a pretty good hand. I’ve had the good fortune to see something of the world, and to do so without being too much of an American and giving our nation a black eye. I’ve picked up some interesting habits from time spent abroad, including a taste for “white tea” and a South African kind of beef jerky called biltong; I’ve learned that despite what the Outback menu says, nobody in Australia eats Walkabout Soup, and I know where to find more than 20 iguanodon skeletons in Belgium.
Even in Kansas I’ve had the good fortune to travel far and wide. One of my favorite spots clearly not on the tourist map is Exit 272 on Interstate 70 just out of Abilene. It s known as the “Exit of Sin,” and with good reason. If you get off the highway and go north, there’s an adult reading and recreational equipment establishment. If you go south, there’s a Russell Stover candy factory and outlet store. And as you get back on the highway going westbound there’s a large billboard reminding you the God sees EVERYTHING.
While I like to think of myself as some kind of “man of the world,” there are those times when I m forced to realize that I am inescapably, at heart, an American. I had one of those moments a few weeks ago at a Major League Soccer game between the Kansas City Wizards and the Los Angeles Galaxy. I had bought tickets because it was going to be a special day David Beckham was coming to town. Becks got injured and wasn’t along for the ride, and Posh Spice stayed home as well. But you hate to waste great tickets at Arrowhead Stadium for any reason, even if only for the walk through the parking lot. With all due respect to the second-place brat-burners of Green Bay, there’s a reason why the network broadcasts of Chiefs games always feature tailgaters. Thousands of grills, hundred of meats, millions of sauces and spice I salivate like Pavlov’s wolfhound just thinking about it.
It’s been said that watching a soccer game is less exciting than watching paint dry. I can categorically state that this is not true. The “beautiful game” is in fact quite beautiful, a flowing tableau of grace and motion, a testament to the true spirit of athletic competition for at least 18 to 20 seconds every half (and more if Zinedine Zidane head-butts an Italian who insulted his sister). Indeed, I have compiled a brief list of things which are, in fact, more fruitless that watching professional soccer:
- Eating a free pasteboard “blueberry snack bar” aboard Southwest Airlines.
- Wondering if Lindsey Lohan will break 1200 on her SATs.
- Supersizing a Big Mac Value Meal with a Diet Coke.
In the interest of fairness, it’s not that I’m totally devoid of any feeling the game. Like many folks, I do watch the World Cup, because nationalism brings out skill, pride, and determination like no regular-season contest ever will. And my interest level in soccer rises as the average age of the participants falls. I thought it was a blast when my son played in the 4- and 5-year-old leagues, for in this case soccer is less an organized team sport than a gaggle of children in different colored shirts moving sluggishly about the field in pursuit of a ball which may or may not actually be within the mass of randomly thrashing feet clad in light-up Spider-Man sneakers. My son, being smaller than average and not usually in the middle of the pack, developed a penchant for trash-talking to the opposition, which at that age means yelling things like “Oh, yeah? You look like a bunny!” (This scenario gives rise to the Ubiqitous Daddy Paradox, or UDP as we call it in the clubhouse, where 51 percent percent of you need to tell the child not to do something because it’s rude or he’ll get into trouble, and 49percent of you are prouder than anything that he’s got the guts to do it.) His most successful play in those years consisted of his stopping a shot on goal with his rear end, which is a pinnacle we still talk about as a signature moment of sporting glory. You take success where you can find it.
In truth, I did enjoy the game, and hearing the stadium announcer proclaim that specific plays were brought to us courtesy of a wheat product (“It’s another Cervasi Pasta Corner Kick!”) appeased the Kansas booster in me. But that being said, the highest moments of drama came not when goals were scored or shots were saved, but when two Kansas City players were thrown out of the game for “dangerous plays.” If I was a parochial Midwesterner which rumor has it I may be I would think the ejections were calculated to ensure that the much larger Los Angeles television audience would have something to cheer for. If I was that cynical, I would also think the acting community has certainly taken the Galaxy to heart, as the downed player seemed to feign total disruption of vital organ systems until the offending Wizard got thrown out, at which point they were instantaneously back on their feet and running about like a revenuer was on their tail. Lucky for us, I’m not that way.
What really got me through the contest, though, was the promise of fireworks at the end. I truly love fireworks, with a passion that approaches a romantic ideal. They can redeem just about anything for me. I craze the small boost of anticipation when the rocket lifts off, the feeling of my eyes tracking tracking tracking its trail upwards until just before it vanishes, and the irreducibly bright splashes of color that dispels both the dark of night and the darkness of life with a blaze of light and glory and goodness. Fireworks seem to blast the despair from the world and carry them away on cinders. Under the canopy of the colors, life suddenly works. Fifteen minutes of pyrotechnics made the whole evening worthwhile, even without the Spice.
But isn’t the soccer game a lot like our daily lives? We spend a lot of time either sitting or spinning our wheels with “busy work,” moving from here to there at a rather slow pace, occasionally putting on a burst of speed to move a bit ahead toward the goal, being sure we’re not getting offsides and ahead of ourselves, always looking toward the end of the day. And that’s when we take our shot and score we go home to our loved ones, take up our hobby, lay down in our beds, or just sit on the porch without worrying about the pager going off. And for that moment — and it is a fleeting moment, for once we begin to think about it it’s gone — our minds empty of the day, and there s that moment of pure feeling that defies description but might best, yet inadequately, be called contented bliss.So what did I learn from going to the game? I was reminded that no matter how it goes, no matter how bad the day somewhere, at the end, there’s always fireworks.