part one is here)
In the first part of this Sunday morning mental exercise, as we await the games later today that will decide this year's Super Bowl contestants (I'll watch little if any of them), there is little in the way of righteous indignation to disrupt the medicinal effects of the coffee. It's more about weariness at the time elapsed, and wariness of those moments when I allow nostalgia to warp my discernment.
Unlike Kevin Turner's parent, it isn't easy for me to persist as a spectator, knowing what I know, and knowing it far less directly than them. On the other hand, slaughterhouse videos seem not to deter me from eating animal flesh. Perhaps football has come to symbolize those aspects of America that I fail to grasp and wish not to indulge, while baseball's analogies still resonate.
I wrote the following essay in 2014 and published it at the beer blog. How much do I miss those Sundays? A better question: Do I miss the person I was then? Now that's the real head-scratcher.
Football, swill, brain death and the American Dream.
RING RING RING RING RING
“What the … ?”
(Old school, rotary dial – it was 1989, for chrissakes)
“We’re cooking and drinking.”
Translation at the speed of hangover …
This undoubtedly meant it was Sunday morning (who’d have known?) and the football games would be starting soon. Barr lived just a few miles away. It would have been senseless to call back.
So, I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth and drove right over. The house smelled like chili, pre-game shows were blaring, and of course there wasn’t any beer.
That’s not quite true. There was beer, although far short of the amount needed to carry us through the entire day. Because Indiana prohibited carry-out beer on Sunday, the inevitable trip across the Sherman Minton to the Louisville's West End needed to come sooner rather than later, when highway driving would be inadvisable.
The really dumb thing about our Sunday beer shortages was their frequency. Most of the time, I’d have worked a Saturday shift at the liquor store, and it would have been easy for me to pick up a case of something/anything, receiving my employee discount on top of it.
But no; advance planning would have made far too much sense. Perhaps there was a secret, nostalgic enjoyment about these runs to Louisville, and actually we were reliving junior high school.
There we’d be, cruising down the Interstate, allowing the chili to simmer for another 35 minutes or so as we tried to time our arrival at the front door of the package store to the precise moment of its 1:00 p.m. opening time. Once inside, pushing past the crowds of fellow Hoosiers, the hunt for acceptable swill began in earnest.
Kindly note that by this point in our drinking lives, we knew what good beer was; it’s just that we weren’t always interested in paying the price for it, especially when purchased in bulk during times when the hot pepper content of the chili threatened to render one’s taste buds null and void.
As celebrity chef David Chang recently observed in GQ, mass-market swill pairs with any food owing to its vigorously carbonated flavorlessness. But these were the days of $5.99-per-case Wiedemann and Top Hat, beers to which the words “benign” and “tasteless” seldom were attached. They had plenty of flavor, just the wrong kind, and consequently a process of thoughtful triage was required.
I’d witnessed it countless times while working at the liquor store. Standing in front of the glass door, we’d begin by eliminating the brands we couldn’t or wouldn’t stomach – essentially, all of them – before beginning Round Two by working backwards and nominating two or three of the least objectionable choices. Price points briefly were parsed, cash collected, and within minutes we were back in the car, pointed toward Indiana and safety.
Subsequently, those cryptic words from the telephone came vibrantly to life, usually achieving saturation around halftime of the afternoon game. The feast would continue into early evening, but because Sunday night football had yet to be invented, there was a two minute warning in the form of the weekly and obligatory viewing of 60 Minutes.
Maybe a final cigar … and the last dregs of a dirt cheap Schaefer.
By then, I’d have beered myself totally sober (or so came the slurred insistence), and would take the back road home. By Monday, almost all of it had been forgotten, making an encore performance the following Sunday all the more likely.
Thinking back 25 or more years to those hours of chili, swill and football, it was all about the camaraderie with wonderful people, not specifically the cooking, drinking and watching. I miss it for that reason alone. Granted, the chili was good. The beer usually wasn’t, but what strikes me today is the football component of the equation, and the way times have changed for me.
We always used to blithely joke about the damage being done to our brains while watching football, never realizing that the carnage on the field was no laughing matter. Today, ignorance no longer constitutes an excuse.
I played football only briefly as a lad, and never was a diehard football fan. Twice I attended college football games, and both were utterly forgettable, not because of the quality of the games themselves, but reflecting my own level of inebriation.
Professional football always appealed to me more; even so, my attention span over the period since those halcyon Sunday couch residencies has waned steadily, to the point where in recent years, I've seldom seen more than a quarter or two of action prior to the playoffs. This year, I haven’t seen a single down, and probably won’t.
I’ve turned away from football because of the increasingly well-documented, regrettable, lifelong physical toll suffered by the players. It isn't just the professional game. The more I read about youth football injuries, the greater my disconnection. We begin to see difficult subsequent lives, erratic adulthoods, and eventual dementia in a different light, and it’s easier to look away – not from the sadly afflicted, but from the violence of the game itself.
The gladiator as metaphor stops being entertaining when the suffering and death are real, not just implied in a voice over.
And if it ever required so much good, bad or indifferent beer to fuel those entire days seated in front of the television, soused and insensate, screaming slogans and pumping fists … well, perhaps the memory of it also compels me to look away from the collisions in the modern coliseum.
Into yonder mirror.