Monday, May 12, 2008

Rerun - Las Vegas, Foam Hands, and How Did We Get Here?

Las Vegas, Foam Hands, and How Did We Get Here?

I watched the Super Bowl today. Actually, there's more to it than that. I left work early, after missing the entire first half and realizing I was actually upset by that, and raced home to watch the Super Bowl today. With my dad, some curry powder popcorn, a beer, and a lot of enthusiastic shouting.

As little as three years ago, I cared more about Britney Spears' latest drama than I did about sports, and you all know how much of a flying fuck I've ever given about that.

So how did we get here? It seems like an awful long leap. How did I go from being a person who not only didn't care about sports in the slightest, but was proud of that fact, to being an actual fan? Not a person who would casually watch a game if drinks were on offer, but a fan. Someone who cares. Who goes out of their way (sometimes WAY out of their way) to watch a game, to find out the scores, to rehash a particularly good (or bad) game with likeminded people?

I think it started in Las Vegas. In fact, I know it started in Vegas. For my twenty third birthday, I went on a lovely weekend trip to Vegas with Jalene and Patty, who are both huge sports fans. This trip happened to be during the MLB playoffs. Patty is a Red Sox fan, and Jalene a Yankees fan, mainly because her husband is. As both teams were in the playoffs, they insisted on frequent stops by the ESPN bar in New York New York to check up on things. This was an incredibly boring prospect to me. Until. To kill the mindnumbing boredom, I decided to make this into an epic struggle, in my head, not between the Sox and the Yankees, but between Patty and Aaron, J's husband. I took a side, Yankees, as you could all guess by now, and against all odds, found myself oddly emotionally invested in the outcome.

Once we were home, I slowly began asking Patty, Aaron and Jalene, my sports loving friends, the occasional question about baseball. This eventually led to my going to a game with my dad ( I got rockin' free tickets from work, and was loathe to let them go to waste.) Prior to going, all I cared about were the following two things: The fact that I was able to TEXT MESSAGE the waitress to bring me beer, and obtaining a gigantic foam hand. However, I found myself doing this very strange thing: Caring. About the game. The outcome, and even, slightly, the mechanics.

A few months later, these same friends wanted me to go to a football game. I had absolutely zero interest in football, and was only convinced when they promised me bloody mary brunch before the game and beer at it. Sitting in their very expensive, 6 rows behind the endzone seats, that strange feeling of being...interested came over me again. During the game and for the next several months, I asked ridiculous questions, and my friends were kind enough to indulge me.

So now we've clearly stepped away from the stance of "caring less than you would think possible". But. We're not yet anywhere near fandom. This is about becoming a fan. This is about how it is I ended up at a dear friends house one night, refusing to hand over her remote until I saw the score on the Seahawks AND the Steelers game, while she yells at me to "Turn that shit off". How did I become a person who actually bailed out of work to go watch a game? And screamed themselves hoarse during that game? How am I a girl who has to be yelled at to rejoin the conversation because I noticed that the hockey game I was interested on is showing on the television nearby, and I can't help but pay attention? I always pictured those girls wearing sweatpants and scrunchies, swilling beers and belching. I never thought that I would be jumping up and down in heels and a skirt, hair and makeup perfect, while screaming "Holy fucking SHIT, did you SEE that? Did you even SEE what Manning just did? Are you paying attention? Are you fucking dead? How do you not react to THAT?" That. Was not something I ever could have imagined myself doing, and really, neither could anyone else who had ever met me. Ever. Even if they'd only met me once, this was not a fathomable happening.

So. Back to the journey. After all my questions and occasional interest, I still couldn't tell you who was in the playoffs, of anything. I still could not understand how watching a game on television could possibly be interesting or even fun. But, when invited to a friends house to watch an important game, I went, largely because they have the most well stocked home bar I've ever seen. To my surprise, and pleasure (the pleasure led to more surprise), I had to ask few questions. I understood what was going on. In a football game. I got it. I even found myself shouting a time or two, but I tried to chalk it up to the influence of vodka and peer pressure.

Now I would occasionally note the score of a Mariners game or Seahawks game with pleasure or vague dismay. I was still not a fan. I was a casual observer. This suited me just fine.

However, following both my Vegas experience and going to a game, I had decided that I quite liked the Yankees, and paid attention when I happened to hear them mentioned. This thrilled Aaron, so he got me reading (Which is stellar and hilarious, and responsible for the phrase "fuck the heck", so you should all read it, sports fans or no).

Then, a stroke of luck. Aaron had convinced his wife that they SHOULD spend several hundred dollars on great tickets for the three game series the Mariners were playing at home against the Yankees. On the day of the second game, he got sick, and I was invited to take his place. Three rows behind the Yankee dugout, I discovered what it was like to truly love a game, and to genuinely have feelings about your team winning or losing. I yelled, I cheered, I jeered, and when the Yankees won? I screamed my lungs out and I felt it. I felt every moment of that joy.

So I guess I was a fan. But of baseball only. And I was quick to point that out to any and every person who I talked to about sports. Of course I was. One of the main, if subconscious, reasons I was so proud not to care about sports is that we tend to judge not just the people who play sports, but the ones who watch them, as not terribly smart, and not terribly deep. It's just not an intellectual pursuit, not something that serious, interesting, artistic people spend their time on. This judgement is one I've been subjected to since coming out as a fan, and now it strikes me as fairly hilarious. A friend yelled at me one day, while attempting to convince me that I didn't actually care about sports, "BUT YOU'RE AN ARTIST!!!" That was the moment I realized how ridiculous it is to think that an interest in sports somehow has an impact on a persons intelligence or depth. How is it possible that, at the point I was at, the point of very pointedly letting people know that I only cared about baseball, and not that much anyway, I was still buying into this idea that having varied and diverse interests was somehow a negative thing? I'm not at all sure...but I digress. Back, again, to my journey to becoming someone who knows what a cheesehead is, and thinks they suck.

Now we come to the real bridge. All of these tiny things had been conspiring to make me a fan, but they hadn't succeeded. Not really. They had all occurred months and even years apart, and they had not yet made me truly care. Not just care in the moment that I was paying attention, but actually, genuinely give a damn. Check the scores, know when the game is coming up, understand the whole package, know the standings, care. Just was not, as far as I was concerned, ever going to go that far.

Enter a guy. It's always a guy, right?

One day, much to my surprise, (I tend to be surprised a lot, as I wander around with my head in any number of clouds) I realized that I was, unfortunately, incredibly attracted to someone I had known online for years. I hadn't noticed being attracted to him before, although I'd noticed that he was clever, funny, interesting, and kind. But all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere, this someone hit me like a mack truck. I'd tried to get him to talk to me before, because I really did think he was terribly interesting, but I'd always failed. One day, though, we got to talking. One of the most startling things I quickly found out was that he was a sports fan. How could this possibly be, seeing as to how I knew that all sports fans were just not very smart or interesting? Given that knowledge, it seemed impossible that this chemist who had great taste in music and books could possibly be into sports, in a serious way.

But he was.

I saw it as something to talk to him about. I happened to know some things about sports, it was baseball season, the Yankees were doing well. Hell, I was on a roll. I had material a-plenty. But yet again, something very strange was about to happen.

I found that I liked talking to him about sports. I liked knowing things, I wanted to learn more things, and I liked that he was able to teach me things. This was great. My opening gambit became, instead, a genuine shared affection for a thing. For once, shock and shame played no part. I rolled with this. I watched more games on tv. I read more sports blogs. I knew A LOT about baseball, and not just the Yankees. But about the Yankees, man, what did I not know? I knew about the games, the politics, the trades, the A-rod crisis, the Joe Torre situation. And I didn't just know. I cared. I cared a lot. I got genuinely pissed off at the idea of Joe Torre losing his job, and the possible loss of A-Rod struck me as a tragedy too horrible to bear.

But then baseball season ended. Somehow, we kept talking about sports. Hell, that we kept talking at all shocked me, but that we kept talking about sports...whoo. And furthermore, I kept caring. I kept wanting to know more. Now I asked this guy all my stupid questions, and he patiently answered every one, sometimes twice. I learned about football. I tried to learn about hockey, but we soon agreed that would have to wait until we could watch a game together.

Some months after we began talking, about sports and really about a million other things, I flew to Chicago to spend some time with this man. It was lovely, and he did teach me some things about hockey. But lovely things end, and so this one did. We tried to remain friends, but for some reasons I do understand and some I can't even begin to wrap my head around, that was a failed effort.

But I walked away with something. Somewhere between Las Vegas and crying my eyes out over Mr. Chicago, I had become a fan. I can't pinpoint the moment it happened. It may have been the day I rushed home from work to watch the Yankees play in the playoffs, alone, on television. Even alone, I screamed, I cheered, I did a little dance, I said a little prayer. My heart leapt when they won, but all those moments when it looked like they might not felt like tiny tragedies.

It may have been the next game, when they lost, and I found myself slightly angry about it still the next day.

Maybe it was when Abe Frohman (previously known as Mr. Chicago) gave me a rubber bracelet with a Penguins in-joke on it, and I wasn't faking my delight upon receipt. Or maybe even later that weekend, sitting in a bar in Chicago, eating nachos and having watching those same Penguins play while I was taught remedial hockey by the incredibly cute, kind of geeky, chemist/sports freak across from me.

It could have been during the NFL postseason this year, when I not only watched the Seahawks games, but found myself watching other playoff games, and knowing how they impacted the standings.

I honestly do not know when it happened. No light shone down from the heavens, there was no ribbon ceremony, no choir sang as I joined the legions of people proud to call themselves fans.

But I know this: Tonight's game? Was incredible. I lied to my boss to get to watch it, and I have no regrets. Manning made an incredible escape, followed by an amazing catch by his teammate. I watched this game, and it was not just fun. It was a nail biter. It was exhilarating. It was some of the purest entertainment I've ever seen.

I know many of my friends will mock me for this, either quietly or openly. That's fine. I still have a little kneejerk reaction to being passionate about sports. But I am. And now I've taken that last step out of the closet.

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