Out amongst ’em

    Just a few more minutes — a precious few — and the mob will be sufficiently distracted by their bread and circuses that I can make my escape. Until then, I’m trapped…

Forgive me, but this situation brings out the very worst, most prejudiced, least tolerant elements of my character.

I was out amongst ’em today. By "’em," I choose a semi-articulate means of expressing my strong sense of "otherness" when compared to a certain very broad swath of the folk of our land.

I’m talking about football fans. Yes, yes, I know, many football fans are otherwise good and decent people in whom I would find many fine and admirable qualities. Many of them are friends of mine. (But we bigots always say that, don’t we?) But when they are in fan mode, I find them intolerable.

I suppose this is to some extent, like all prejudices, an irrational response. I have an excuse, though. I think I’m suffering from a mild form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Football has been very, very bad to me.

I haven’t been a football fan myself since 1969, when that snotty Joe Namath led the Jets to beat my team, the Baltimore Colts, in a drastic distortion of the natural order. I had waited what had seemed like forever (a year or two is like forever at that age) for Johnny Unitas and company to prevail over the hated Packers, and they finally had. That meant they had achieved their rightful place as the best team in the world. Sure, there was that mere formality of a post-season exhibition against the AFL, but everyone knew that the AFL was profoundly inferior to the NFL, so it hardly counted, right?

What that stunning experience taught me was that football is an unforgivably capricious sport. Too much rides on the uncontrollable flukes of a single game. In baseball, as in life, you’ve got to be good over the long haul to achieve the pennant. That builds character. In football — because the game is so insanely harsh upon its practitioners’ bodies — there are so few games that every single one is all-important. You can’t afford to lose a single one, if you want to be the champs. Such inflated stakes make each game ridiculously overimportant to fans. They lose all sense of proportion, which is very off-putting.

But I didn’t really learn to hate the game until I came to work at The State, and spent my first year here being the editor in charge on Saturdays. You can see where this is going, can’t you? It seemed that the sadists over in the Roundhouse had contrived to schedule every single home game that year to begin shortly after the time I had to be at work — meaning that there was no way I could get to work in less than an hour and a half. You’ll recall that back then, the newspaper offices were located in the very shadow of the Grid Temple. We’re a little farther away now, but not enough so to make it easy to get in and out on a game day. Oh, excuse me, isn’t that supposed to be capitalized — Game Day?

I would travel around and around a circle with a five-mile radius centered upon Williams-Brice, probing for weaknesses in the wall of flag-bedecked vehicles, looking for a way in to work, always frustrated. Up Bluff or Shop road? No. Around Beltline to Rosewood and back in? No. A frontal assault up Assembly? That was as mad as Pickett’s Charge. Through Olympia? Are you kidding?

By the time I was finally at the office, I was foaming at the mouth. Seriously, I wasn’t fit to talk to for hours, I was filled with such hostility for every single fan (you know the word is short for "fanatic," don’t you?) out there. I was in such a degraded, paranoid state of mind that I actually believed (temporarily) that they had all conspired to cause me this frustration intentionally (they couldn’t possibly be enjoying that gridlock themselves, so there HAD to be a nefarious motive somewhere). My embarrassing discourses on the subject to fellow employees were as profane as they were unwelcome. I think the worst day was the one when I was almost arrested by a Highway Patrolman who refused to let me up Key Road to The State‘s parking lot when I had finally worked my way to within 100 yards of it — an obstinacy on his part to which I responded with a distinct edge of barely-contained rage.

This afternoon, I had to go out a little after 1 p.m., and had to pass twice through the heart of the fan encampment. Folks were already tailgating. There was no yardarm in sight, but I’m quite certain the sun wouldn’t have been over it if there had been, and these folks were already getting a six-hour jump on the liquoring-up process. (They couldn’t really like football, if they need that much anesthetic before a game.) This shouldn’t have bothered me, but I couldn’t stop thinking thoughts such as these: This is Thursday, a workday. I’ve got more work waiting for me back at the office than I can get done by the weekend, and there’s a war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Gulf Coast from Texas to Alabama has just been essentially wiped off the map, the price of fuel has jumped practically 50 percent in a matter of days, and these people can’t think of anything better to do with their time.

But they’re not the problem. It’s me. My response is contemptibly irrational. I’m only harming myself. Case in point: I’ve been ranting about this so long, I’ve almost lost my window of opportunity to escape before the fair-weather types start slipping out at halftime and clogging Shop Road.

Gotta go. Bye. I’ll try to be more civil and tolerant of my fellow humans in my next posting. But I’m not promising anything.

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