Tuesday, February 08, 2005

If the Carlisle Indians Couldn't Win, I'm Glad the Canton Bulldogs Did

That is to say: Is it over yet? Super Bowl parties are not the ideal vehicle for actually watching the game even when there is a big screen TV and those in attendance are all as devoted to the study of football as a physicist is to subatomic particles or Madonna to the Kabbala.

This is true because of the nature of group behavior. Even when you are listening to classical music or attending serious theater -- events where the default setting of the audience is silence, even worshipfulness -- you are aware of the reactions of those around you, peripheral yet unmistakable. Signs of restlessness, murmurs of laughter, adjacent bodies twitching in agreement or resistance -- all are part of the matrix in which you are embedded and all influence your reaction to the performance. All divert your attention from it.

Consider then what a geometric increase in the intensity of blurring and displacing takes place when you are witnessing an event in reaction to which you are supposed to show to your fellow spectators your pain or pleasure as part of the ritual, as in the case of a rock concert or a fine rural evening of snake handling and talking in tongues. Consider particularly the case of men viewing certain sporting events, those where it is to your credit if you display not only a great deal of insight into the game as it is played today but also of the history of the game and the intricacies of the game. This knowledge is not to be displayed by raising your hand and waiting to be called upon but by shrieking it into the ears of others and having it shrieked back. You are what the anthropologists might call a participant observer. This isn't Star Trek and the Prime Directive. You are here to interfere.

In short, watching the Super Bowl with friends is a kind of performance piece in which everyone serves as audience to more than the game. A Super Bowl party is a game outside the game, wrapped around the football contest as the crowd is wrapped around the television. Lay on top of that the fact in such a testosterone-sodden situation the premium is on humor based on aggression since the nature of the game should be mirrored in the tone of remarks.

All this can produce a pretty tense situation, particularly if you are not well acquainted with all those at the Super Bowl party. Even if you are with friends toward whom you are kindly disposed and even if the war-by-another-name never escalates beyond banter, you WILL suffer some degree of preoccupation.

What was that? They got the ball back? How? Huh? What?

another beer sure another beer sure another beer sure

So I don't feel bad that I really did not follow Super Bowl Crosses and Hockey Sticks all that closely on Sunday because I was at an additional disadvantage. I was not in some pleasant climate-controlled suburban living room but parked next to the San Francisco Bay in the company of Big Pat Daugherty and a half dozen of his friends watching the Super Bowl to windward of Daugherty's camper.

To the inherent difficulties in paying attention to the game in the presence of others, add the following:

a) Daugherty set up his camper -- it has this little awning that rolls out from the side; cute -- on the eastern bank of San Francisco Bay facing the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, the San Francisco skyline, etbeautifulcetera. One's attention is naturally drawn away.

b) Orient yourself. To look at the television, it was necessary to face west. Many interesting things happen in the west in the afternoon, including the setting of the sun. Daugherty pinned up what looked like a Salvation Army blanket to defeat the glare, but the sun was in my little eyes.

c) Okay. Wonderful host that he was, Daugherty supplemented the rather small color tv at the center of the football creche with a really pretty tiny black-and-white tv placed in front of me over to the side out there in the rays of the dying sun. Was it like watching the game on my thumbnail? As they say on Jeopardy, "What is Duh?"

d) Okay again. Daugherty was afraid the tiny tv added to the little tv would be too great a drain on the bank of batteries stored under the sleeping shelf in the back of his camper. And right he was. In the middle of the third quarter we lost power. Daugherty did start his truck and we were able to run the tiny tv by plugging it into his cigaret lighter. So there I was sharing my thumbnail.

In cruel summary: It was cold, it was dark, it was windy, the sun had long since slunk away, the only other idiot in sight was some guy in a battered pickup trying to teach his girlfriend how to drive a stickshift by lurching up and down the parking lot where we were set up -- and we were being hassled by security guards from the nearby racetrack (even though Daugherty said it really wasn't their parking lot) because somehow someone had set something or other on fire in the vicinity of the camper.

All of us were fouled with drink, and one of Daugherty's guests had been celebrating steadily from a gallon jug of spiced rum all afternoon and, having gone barking mad, wrapped himself in Daugherty's Salvation Army blanket and advanced to the water's edge where he threatened the waves with a large piece of driftwood. Think of Moses trying to part the Red Sea while working through some issues.

We huddled shivering near the truck and cursed his madness and his poetry.

At this point, Daugherty had an Okie moment and went into a monologue of his own in which he quoted long passages from Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" to the effect that there were apples to pick in Washington and if we could only get up there there would be jobs for all of us.

Game, what game? It was one of the finest evenings of my life.

Addendum: Those of you who took the time to listen to any of the audio reports I recorded on Sunday and posted in real time to this blog may object that there is a discrepancy between those oral accounts and this recapitulation. I can only say that heaven is an edited version of hell and vice versa.

Take the facts; sift and select; there's the truth of it.

Addendum II (Love those Roman numerals): The common denominator between the Carlisle Indians and the Canton Bulldogs? Jim Thorpe.


Anonymous said...

I loved the "heaven is an edited version of hell."
WOW!!!! That's writing.

Anonymous said...

Well, it appears that male posturing is such a wonderful experience that freezing yourself to death, glaring directly into the sun and drinking yourself silly results not in the lessening of pleasure, but enhancing it!!!! ---- All those wonderful things contributed to one of the most wonderful evenings of your life! Who could compete with that?

Anonymous said...

Well, of course, it was successful Super Bowl camper party. Goes without saying. Discomfort, alcohol, sun stroke, questionable food, big wind chill coupled with big game no one can see. A fourth quarter black out. Yes. Indeed. Worked perfectly. Ideal. Story will be told over the campfire for generations.

Wait till next year.