YY) Football and the ...


(a chapter)


(Thursday, 30DEC2021)

(upon arrival for work, buying dinner from the convenience mart)

"Did you watch the First Responders' Bowl," he says, a coworker, as we stare at half-stocked shelves, under Jingle Bells. He's maybe twenty-five. "Tuesday?"

" ... Yeah."

"What was going on there?" he says." What did they have against the Cardinals?"

"What on Earth," he says, turning his countenance. "Air Force certainly won, didn't they--"

"Yeah. I have to go way out of my way," 'say to him, trying to pass it off as good-natured humor. "To keep Biden from dropping of aneurysm. Harris would be even worse a leader--"

"--Washington has its own written word economy-"

"--She's bright and can express assertion and fight personally, but disciplines of governance ... "

Standing in line for the register, we swap some present-day rhetoric, the times being what they are, including him saying "At least Biden's not Trump," though 'never understood what Republicans had to do with being conservative. 'Never noticed them much. Certainly 'never took them into account. Then he asks what it must be like to be even remotely related to any of those 'Karens' on The View, until he says. "--Cast a spell. Cast runes. Do whatever you have to. Do it all--"

"--I have enough trouble keeping the older White women and wealthy middle-aged Black women from dropping of aneurysm," 'said to him. " At any given moment. Look at their fantasy world of football. It's some civilian fantasy that that's all that's going on. That's life. The world is flat and only made up of fifty American states--"

"--Go through more--"

"--Best to leave them as they is," 'say to him, as he swipes his card, agrees to a plastic bag. "So Purgatory won't have time or space for them--"

"--But YOU watch football."

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(Tuesday, 4JAN2022)

"I take my life and put it on the football field, and I take the football field and put it in my life," says the Steelers quarterback, it now being one of his more famous quotes.

Last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns, fourteen to twenty-six. It remains quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's last game at Heinz Stadium, his "home." At thirty-nine he has won two Super Bowls and suffered no losing seasons with Pittsburgh since beginning his NFL career in 2004. And playing eighteen seasons. This season Pittsburgh remains, technically, still in the running for the playoffs.

Though it is an eighteen-week season, and the depth of a team's roster is deciding more than not, due to positive Covid tests, the NFL continues to sell its product, well enough. Negative stories have a way of disappearing, whether by power or by money, positive stories get more hype than natural. The sportscasters during games continue to state "obvious" things, too "simple" to be articulated out loud on national television.

"They're selling tickets," 'say to him. He remained unharmed through his boyhood, though he became institutionalized -- one might suspect, he's institutionalized -- by years of foster care and many years in a Southern California group home, where they were grouped up by age and gender and lived in "cottages." The military betrayed his trust. He found himself in a bad unit at a bad time. Someone from no family -- they suddenly find themselves trusting the people around them, for the first time in their life. Someone from no family, takes this unfortunate version of military experience exceptionally. There's a douchebag in every unit, remains the old adage. Sometimes there's more. He remains beloved, only he's not in the military anymore, with no negative strikes against him. He cooks well, including today's chili.

"You bought such expensive meats," 'said to him, earlier, "-- lamb and wasybu -- what ... ground beef -- with FOOD stamps--"

"--Bro, of course. It's the holiday. What am I, a dog?"

Us veterans, in Ashe, around the same age, living blocks from each other, have a way of gathering around the holidays, usually at my place, especially this year. He did not stay up with me to watch the Alamo Bowl, from two a.m. to four something, nor our usual third, an early twenty-something, too young to have lost his first born to stillbirth and his young wife to suicide, shortly thereafter ... Now that my job has turned into turning over one Covid room after another, one watches a lot of Bowl games, NBA games, NHL games, NFL games, incidentally. Having quit drinking for over a week now, sleep remains ... as it would be ... and the sleeping pill causes me to wake drowsy, and late. "If you don't want to have to overhear the sportscasters during the game, you'll have to buy a ticket, and go to the game yourself. They're selling a product."

"CAPitalism ... " he says, sprawled over the couch, his palm behind his head.

"They'll sell your own heritage back to you if you're not careful," 'say to him. "Your own blood. 'Freedom of speech is built-in required."

Baseball's problems tend to only be sorted out concerning fair revenue sharing: labor strikes. The problems they should be sorting out have to do with the game itself, instead, like how long the games can be, with little action. A pitch-clock has been suggested for pitchers, amongst other things, but the players, higher-ups, and league never talk about it, as ratings continue slowly downward. Basketball owes a great debt to Larry Byrd and Magic Johnson's well-handled East coast, West coast rivalry. After integration, White athletes seemed to only try out for baseball and football, Blacks, basketball. If not for the Seventies, the Celtics, and the Lakers, today's NBA would be missing several crucial players. Hockey remains pure, as 'understand it, due to that Northern -- Canadian-esqe -- accent, implying honesty and politeness, brutal contact sport, and the inclination to properly stitch the opponent up after the match.

Before last night's game, ESPN's Randy Moss quoted the Browns' Myles Garret, concerning Roethlisberger's last game in Pittsburgh: "I just want to celebrate with him."

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(New Years Eve 2021-2022)

"I always get good readings," he says. The 'institutionalized' one, Rainger -- 'don't tell him. Due to weather, he worries that it's not close enough to the witching hour, basically midnight to two in the morning. He seems to think our neighborhood isn't great, safety-wise. 'Think he feels watched, being young, living alone but for Norse, the widower.

"It's New Year's Eve, either way," 'say to him. "We can read them an hour early."

His cards are fire, fire, fire, fire, no water.

Norse's cards are water, water, water, one fire.

The rest is none of your business. 'Doesn't matter. 'Am the only one who can read these cards.

"No engagements, financially, or relationship-wise, or relationship-financially," 'say to him. "This year."

"Get grounded for God's sake," 'say to him at some point.

"Find somewhere or language to express or something for your higher power to deal with you. God's eyes are upon you."

"Why do you think they call it the lost and worldly," 'say to him. "Why do you think they say it like that ... "

"Like how old people--" 'Norse says.

"--Elders. Elderly--"

"--Call Church the Devil's playground," Rainger says.

"The Devil is a modern concept. You should worry more about the Covenant. 'Watch The Conjuring films, later," 'say to him, as Norse looks on with his fifty-year-old-in-a-twenty-two year-old temple, looking on skeptically, per usual, though he's all over his heritage, his last name being Norse.

"These are dark cards," Norse says.

"What would happen if someone else translated them," Rainger says. "Other than you."

"The Book of Enoch has two translations, Jewish and Babylonian," 'say to them. "They are vastly different. Translation can be inept, but also politically calculating. These cards are mine and mine alone. Or I am theirs. They have never been wrong."

It's snowing outside, a somewhat heavy flurry. It does that in Ashe, sometimes, like, for an hour or two.

"The cards like you. Don't worry. There's just not much time. They're being blunt, for some reason. We are outnumbered. That is true. The lost and worldly outnumber us. That's why Great Floods exist. Earth knows how to extinct the human race, or any other problem. So stay in the light, with the minority. Don't be bitter, cynical, depressive, worrying, down on the state of things. Selfish. Stay in the light. Anyway, I know to dump the lost and the worldly in the Pacific ... ... part of the ... ... Flood."

"How can you be a man of God's and read cards?" Rainger says, his curly Creole-meets-Indigenous-meets-Hispanic locks allowing him extra body language, them constantly having to be adjusted.

"Life will kill you, and there's little God can do about it. The Universe is as it is. Once there were no humans here. Only Big Foots, and Sasquatch, Yeren, Yeti--"


"--Then, far into the future, Anunnaki. Under God's, apparently silent, eye, and in the planets' witness. Maybe His eyes flinched, maybe they did not. Maybe He winced upon the sight, maybe not. 'Was not of those there, upon the Dead Sea bomb crater's sudden existence. This story of a lifeform exploiting their own planet until that lifeform goes extinct, because Life protected Herself, is the oldest story in the Universe. It is not Breaking News. Surely, before the Native Americans traveled here some human being or another impressed God, for this land is holy. Down to the Trickster. Best stay in the Light. So you will always hit the ground running."

"Now read Norse's cards."

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(Weekend, 8, 9DEC2021)


(cigarette run)

"--What's with you listening to Lumineers' Submarine?" Rainger says, as he places his hands in his coat pockets.

"It's about Ernest--"

"--No way that's true--"

"--Hemingway--ANYway. As you get older it's like you live the same day over and over, more and more. In Basic you're encouraged to have no habits, no routine, no time for idle thoughts," 'say to him, as we walk through a rural-oriented part of town, a kind of trailer park hidden in the mountains. "The height of mental health."

"So Groundhog Day's," Rainger says. "The opposite ..."


(chips, sodas run)

"I don't know if Tom Brady would make a good president," Rainger says, his boots 'not the correct boots.'

He seems to want me to recommend him to one of, any, female friends, or sisters. It may be the only reason we're friends, maybe not. He seems to feel his race, skin-color, will stop him in the end, so what's the point of endeavors ... He gives a lot to charity, food-wise, especially the homeless and impaired. He seems to foster, a sincere, faith-required, belief, if not hope, in Karma.

"There's a lot of plagiarism," he says. He likes to say smart things with a certain smart-alleck. He once j'accused that I knew everything, but it was late at night. He seemed surprised how some treat them as four parties, conservative Democrats, liberal Republican,, and the other two.

"Chinese seem to be the best at generic," 'say to him through the icy wind. "They think good products only come from good people. The Americans aren't afraid of a free market."

"Capitalism and democracy. NFC, AFC--"

"'Don't know what kind of freedom they were going for--"

"--At least we're forced to talk to each other."


(pizza run)

"Sports remains the ultimate representation of fascism," 'say to him, through sudden, harder rain as he opens the store-front's door. "But it's kind of our plan 'b.' Except everyone already knows--"

"--We're the Plan B," he says, choosing his toppings.

"And Sparta. Create healthy, young warriors as efficiently as possible. Everyone but Athenia was doing it. They just happened to be the best--"

"So we're the Plan ... D ..."


(coffee, energy drink run)

"What is with you and khakis and that black beanie?" Rainger says.

"They're Gap. And they have a string instead of belt loops."

"... So then everyone would have the benefit of having a Norse history," the widower continues, as we leather-tramp to the bodega.

"'--I--'don't think that's how it works," 'say to him, before turning back to Rainger. "ANYway. It's 'cause of your age. You're kind of competing with Alexander the Great, except you had good ... enough ... parents ... So you kind of never know where you stand."

"--Good," Norse says. "They're still open. Oh--men--"

"--Some people like to strut their stuff. It's more about policy than politics. Like, no ruining the mountains."

"I know what you look like," Rainger says, with a laugh. "A Polish dockworker."


(cigarette, coffee run)

"Evolution is a theory," the youth, Norse, says, the purple sky just light enough.

"Never proven," 'say to him. "But enough to buck back Church and State becoming synonymous."

"Nothing wrong with bucking back."

"So which side?" Rainger says.

"The liberals will save our money for us," Norse mutters. "Through taxes."

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(Monday, 24JAN2022)

(morning, taking down Christmas decorations)

"I got it," Rainger says from below.

"I wanted to watch Tom Brady in the Super Bowl," the youth says. "It's a consumer's market."

"--I--don't think that's how it works."

Rainger's a flake.

"'YOU holding the ladder ..."


"But ARE you."


"For tonight. If you need to buy yourself some more Americana from a shopping center--"

"--I'm good."

"--'Know all the best spots--"

"Watch that wreath. And. Also. You're a terrible person--"

"--Ya'll grew up to be little rich white kids. Lacking of talent, skill, competence, capability. 'Sure kept all the signs of privilege. But for blackened teeth ... What an accomplishment. Don't worry. Once her dead fish eyes get to a certain point, they'll fall out -- dissipation. Then all you'll have to look at is her sockets. There's a difference between bone and bone ... AM I right--"

"--YOU two," Youth says, while collecting fallen decorations. "She seems alright."

"For over a week," Rainger says. "I did exactly as you said--"

"--You know I learned that from the barracks--"

"--Pretend nothing bad ever happened to you before the age of eighteen, including trials and tribulations," Rainger says with flourish and antics, to boot. "And for those WHOLE eighteen years I was wearing name-brand-shoes the WHOLE time--"

"--The White female is very easily confused, concerning who is human and who is not. If you find yourself in a tough spot, throw something shiny at her, like a penny--"

"How to date a White girl," the Youth says, sweeping his broom. "One oh one."

"In The Beginning Was The Word. Whatever she said."

"I don't mention how much money I make," Rainger says. "I never drive up in a car. I never mention disability--"

"--She's civilian. Like, super-sheltered. Reality knows to not waste its time. You might as well be dealing with a balloon full of air -- not oxygen, of course. She'd know bet--"

"--JUST say," Youth says, leaning on the broom. "You're a product of the system. And make sure no military tattoos can be seen."

"Marilyn Monroe obviously died virgin. Human beings unaware of the human condition--"

"When she asks what I do," Rainger says. "I'll be like -- All my LIFE ... ... I had to FIGHT ... "

"--Harr harr harr--"

"--Don't forget to pay--"

"--If she tries to sleep with you this early -- GHost her -- No one respects a WHORE--"

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(Thursday, 27JAN2022)


Grandpa. Not great-Grandpa. Ray's father. The one with the greenhouse. He liked to travel, to photograph, to see distant relatives, like it was a thing, relatives on a summer road trip. He's a lot like J____. Good-natured, but when he puts his foot down it's real, and everyone subtlety knows it. Summer in north New York State feels like The Wonder Years, a television show 'would watch. My, apparently, second cousin, gave me rights to his bicycle. He's always happy to see me, like he doesn't exactly know what to do with this new information that we are cousins. We spend the days visiting people around the neighborhood, a residential suburb, not too crowded, with his friend, a neighbor. Maybe we're eight, nine. We stayed two weeks. The dynamics of our immediate family were already set, but there was a newness to landing in the larger family, so that witnessing Dawn, Ray, Grace, and Rose playing along with how things should be, going to the yard sales on Saturday mornings, like going to a festival, had an air or normalcy that everyone seemed to feel they deserved.

We were natural accomplices. Dawn's days were not easy. To not be normal. To not know it's not a character defect; it's autism. To blame yourself when something social doesn't quite work. When things all of the sudden are working, it's like this light occurs in her eyes, while she's playactin--socializing-- within a group. Once Dawn believes she's good and normal and everything's okay and right, us remaining four somehow knew how to be. Only, it wasn't the joy of her joy that is the memory.

It's the specific, personal joy, Grace's joy. Though half the time the females were at each others' throats. Rose's joy. That glance across the backyard during the cookout, that witnessing Dawn finally relieved, shining, her American Dream, and somehow knows it, with pride, vastly older than America, suddenly true, with none of the usual negative omens that warn something's up. When Dawn fits in, the secret, unspeakable joy shared by the four accomplices does not resonate from her, but from Grace, Rose, Ray.

She has no idea how to be in an Irish family. She only knows the old ways, from the Valley of Death. When all of the sudden she's free of them, the old, original ways, and gets to be like everyone else, we were so happy for her, in a way that if she had known she would have crushed, handled, gotten control of. That's what it's like coming from the original. She wants you to be as cool as the latest. If you are her boy, you know she knows, you'll know ... all of it, thoroughly, all of the past, for what it was, for how it went down, for how it ACTually happened. She knows you cannot help but have your own point of view.

"You're just kids," she said, that summer, my head on her lap, in the backseat of a truck, whose driver's local, maybe related, 'knows where he's going. She's the most beautiful woman in the world. The most capable. The most relevant. "You're just little kids."

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(Saturday, 29JAN2022)

(Northeaster, walking)

"Everything's closed," the Youth says--

--When trying to figure out one's self, in the moment, why is there a disconnect ... Why does alcohol unlock the boy ... the temple ... his emotions. 'Know God loves the boy, but what am I to do with these people ...

They would say Lincoln would not go very far socially, his being too stoic, and with his reverence of comedy.

What do they know... 'Have run into a higher standard before. The lifeblood of the people, he said, a culture. The Deuteronomic school of scholars. That's a standard. 'Cause it worked. As horror and horrific occurs out the window, as the temple burns, those scholars worked, putting the Torah together, just in time. to hit 'send.' Such storyboards of the Lord of the Rings. All the way down, systematically-checked, for anything concerning literature. The real-live storyboards must be remembered. Even if the white people keep going on about goblins and pagans and Harry Potter and Tokien. 'Same storyboards. Identical, really.

"Chuck," the Youth says, as we walk back from checking on him. "You're talking out loud."

"'Hate that he's going to be holed up like that through the storm."

"He does have Covid."




(Tuesday, 08FEB2022)

"But it was really you who had Covid," he says, as he hangs his lab coat on the back of his office chair.

"Asymptomatic. Everyone else was sick. They never got vaccinated ... so there was little I could do for them."

"You're vaccinated?" he says.

"After seven days I came back to work and it wasn't the same job anymore. And I don't know what happened. I used to have a good job. In January twenty-twenty I was blessed, happy, hopeful, with plans and everything."

"Um," he says, then looks at me like I might be telling the truth.

--That's the thing about science-oriented people, they're such know-it-alls. They need to sound and be treated like they absolutely know what they're talking about. And they wonder why they're known and assumed for having such terrible bedside manner ... It's like dealing with some liberal, and not the good kind, the non-bully. A conservative knows to say: God exists, God loves you, God is vengeful, no one knows why He can't take His eyes off us, maybe we were once good. After that, proper humility takes over. Conservatives can also be bullies. 'Don't worry. 'Know them like the back of my hand and I know how to win. Goodness, the boy always did have an ear for someone using politics to bully people, whether they were liberal or conservative. He was just good at it. Doc's going to do what he did last time; he's going to tell me I can't feel love, like, popularity, civilian life, safety. He's going to tell me it's all gone too far. They won. I'm from the horror and horrific and harrowing. Cruelty and meanness. And then I grew up to not know anything else. It's always the same with the smart people. 'Know what they say about me: If my boyhood and adolescence was turned into a Hollywood film it would be the first horror film to sweep the Oscars. What do they know. And anyway, 'would never let that happen. Just 'cause it's based on true events doesn't mean I don't know a horror film sweeping the Oscars would be bad for America. I go to the restaurant, well, really 'pass by its plate glass windows on the way to the bodega and I catch basketball on, and America does feel like home. It's not like that with football. When I see a football stadium full of fans all I tend to see is a maybe-lynch mob. When that happens I then watch The Blindside, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates. How many times have I seen that ... at least a hundred times ... I see those former coworkers, at the restaurant, and witness them, and 'wonder about this would-be world full of good food and comradery where the most important thing is tonight's Virginia/Duke game, and I always wonder why I can't do this, accept this place. What am I going to--

"I know I'm not okay. And I don't know what to do about it."

"You've been overworking yourself in a pandemic hospital for over two years," he says. He slides his ID card into his computer, then types in his password. "What did you think was going to happen?"

"Just tell me what to do."

"A survivor doesn't know how to be happy. You need to go to AA meetings. You need to wake yourself back up. Surviving these people was never easy. Making sure nothing bad happens to them is even harder. But I've witnessed you handle things too well for you to find yourself on a road to rock-bottom. I wish I could help you. I wish it was up to anyone but you."

There is a pause. 'Don't know why he caused a pause.

"I don't know if I could ever forgive them now," 'finally say to him. "God was right. If they can't handle this pandemic, then what good are they."

"After all you've been through, it was the last two years that got you?"

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(Wednesday, 09FEB2022)

"Are you mad?" he says. Rainger is hilarious, and he's entertaining and enjoyable and I'm not like that. When I walk into a room, it doesn't light up and you don't take in a breath of fresh air. As far as I know. 'Always found people with his qualities ... Well, I just want to ask them questions like I would Royal, questions about what it was like to be ... liked ... instead.

So, yeah, I drink for about three hours every night ... beer. And I have no excuse. 'Have plenty of the sleeping pills. What if Simone Biles did that. Kevin Durant doesn't have that option. Tom Brady doesn't even eat bread, and he's retired. LeBron James has been through a lot, but he doesn't get to sit in a recliner and stare at a screen watching a basketball game where he already knows who's won 'cause it's that late at night, while he sips a mind-altering substance.

Rainger doesn't like that I do. And I love this generation of basketball players, though I have no idea what "Woj" means. 'Really feel like they should spell that out better. So that's that. 'Am still in that Color Purple grocery store suddenly knowing there is a God. 'Know the habit has something to do with Zaki ... How does one sort oneself out when all you know how to do is keep going ... Sometimes I actually feel hate for Zaki and I don't know why why why ... any of this could have happened ... how could one possibly be angered by a dead harmed boy.

Rainger's been had addict written all over him, the way he rationalizes his behavior, the way he doesn't know he just said to me that he plays with uppers and downers, not realizing it's never going to end, he's never going to find the right "prescription." Regardless of what VA doc gave it to him. Sure, I ran around Appalachia keeping Brodie from overdosing, but if it had been Pete Davidson, I don't know if I could've saved him. Some addicts have the privilege of being good at their social hustle. 'Luckily don't have that problem. 'Best I got is the "awkward honesty of autism."

"I'm just trying to get it together," he says, from the recliner. "You know, 'cause it's the new year. And I can't have people around who have problems."

"No--yeah. No I get it. Of course."

"I'm sorry I won't be here to watch the Super Bowl with y'all," he says at the door, before leaving.

"No--Everyone knows I'm going to have to watch The Blindside first. Not as many are coming as you might thought--Rainger. Don't worry. I know how to do this."

"Do what?"

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