My mother used to say that her earliest memory was of family members gathered around her cooing and applauding as she did a dance number. She was the first born of the first born and was considered by a large web of loving family to have invented cuteness. I've seen photos and have to agree.
My earliest memory is of potty training. My parents are both in a very small apartment bathroom encouraging me in sweet "you can do it, little one!" voices. I am on the toilet and scared. Then I am in the toilet, wet, and scared. And can you guess what my beloved parents did in the face of this scarring tragedy of their only child?
Those peckerwoods laughed their tails off. I was furious at the two of them trying not to laugh and tears streaming down their faces as they coughed out, "It's okay, baby" between fits of giggles. I may have only been two, but righteous indignation was an instinct.
In those earliest memories my mother and I both learned lessons we have used the rest of our lives. For Mama it was: you can be adored by many, but you will have to dance your sweet fanny off to keep their attention. For me it was: they are going to laugh at you no matter what, learn to like it. (My lesson was closely followed by a fear of water and of falling. Mama has an aversion to lace trimmed panties and tap shoes. But that's another story.)
I share my first remembered life lesson to goad myself into sharing yet another humiliating story about myself: why I am not allowed to follow sports. This is on my mind for two reasons. First, I am immersed in Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, an engaging look at his decades long obsession with the English soccer team, Arsenal. Second, I am off in less than two weeks on my fifth trip to the Gulf Coast to rebuild after Katrina. This time I will be working in the 9th Ward of New Orleans and am finding the lure of Saints football to be almost overwhelming.
It may come as a surprise that in the marital rules by which my long-suffering spouse and I have lived for almost twenty years, there is a provision that restricts me from observing any sporting events other than German World Cup matches, the Super Bowl, and the occasional UVA basketball game. I can do an annual live baseball or soccer game only because in person I always find a crowd and our squirmy kids far more attention grabbing than the sport itself.
I will save the long version of my sordid sportsfan past for my memoirs. Let's just say that I have an ugly side that reared its head twice in the early nineties following a season of abysmal Raiders football and another of spectacular but ultimately soul obliterating Knicks basketball. After these seasons he enacted the draconian law that I am not allowed to follow a team for a full season. It is the only marital law he has ever enacted. The rest are requests, strong suggestions, and a wish list.
I have only been able to stop scowling and begin to laugh about this 17 year law for about... um... three... months. But in the spirit of dunking one's bottom in icy water and grinning, and seeing as how football mania is under way, I am sharing my struggle here.
I can very easily put the fanatic in fan. I have all the attributes: a long attention span, loyal affection, quick to forgive (although not at the end of the season). I am willing to alter my schedule for things I care about. I enjoy dressing in costumes. I like beer. Most of my friends are dudes.
These are the gifts I long to bring to the New Orleans Saints and possibly, through the miracles of the internet, Bayern Munich's soccer team. To the latter I also bring a gift of being able to mutter curses and shriek in glee in the German language.
Unfortunately, following sports even if allowed is pretty miserable for me because I become enmeshed. Ask my friends with whom I watched the World Cup this year. For the matches televised only on cable I arrived at their homes quiet and antsy. I failed at polite small talk. I barely spoke for the duration of the game unless it was in German directed at the TV. I was wearing German themed athletic gear. (And to think, I wasn't laughing at that point?!?) I exhibited a variety of nervous tics including sitting ramrod straight, holding my breath, and wringing my hands. God bless my friends. They laughed openly at me and let me drink their beer.
I handled it pretty well in the beginning. I mean who can't chuckle and enjoy the day when mopping the floor with Australia or cleaning the toilet with the jerseys of England? But there was never a point in Germany's meteoric rise through the tournament when I felt safe. After all, the pre-tournament talk was about France, the Africans, the South Americans, most anyone other than Germany's "young" team.
Like any good fan, I was wrapped up in the skills and failings of the players. I had fallen for the Polish powerhouses of Klose and Podolski four years earlier and was expecting good things from them. I had no hope for the newbie goalie, the aptly named Neuer, but was pleasantly surprised and soon gave him the pet name of the big Banana. It helped that I don't trust pretty men and thus had never been under the sway of former captain Ballack, so I was able to ignore the constant prattle that the team would be lost without him. (Is this talk creeping you out yet? It always stuns my family. I normally save this kind of detail for death, obscure theology, poetry, and rock and roll. Obsessive analysis of a sports team by yours truly is my equivalent of a sudden understanding of calculus.)
I could go on but I wouldn't want you to faint, so let me move on to my anxiety which reached its pinnacle in the days leading up to and including Germany's penultimate game that booted them from the final.
I was on pins and needles all week. I replayed the previous games in my mind. I followed World Cup news through a variety of apps and in three languages on my phone. I talked smack to Spain fans. I was so tense I didn't sleep well the night before. During the match itself I became increasingly unhinged as they were deftly over-powered by Spain. It has taken all these months to be able to stutter out that compliment to the World Champions.
But here is the best part. For that game I was in a van with my undertaker buddy and our kids on the way to South Carolina for his brother's wedding. In best-friend-enabling fashion he had let me watch as much as I could on his TV before we hit the road. Then we tuned in on some iffy radio stations. When those blitzed out another buddy... are you ready for this? ... gave me play by play analysis in a series of 90 some emails that I followed like a crazy woman on my phone.
When the game ended with Germany's loss I was green with carsickness and disappointment. In commentator buddy's last email he apologised to me and offered condolences on my loss. This from a man who probably gave himself acute carpal tunnel typing things like "Spain's striker rushes but Big Banana blocks it" for the better part of two hours. The undertaker held my hand and gave me his best undertaker comfort talk, while driving 75 miles an hour with the kids yakking away in the back in 95 degree heat. And folks, neither of these guys are German soccer fans.
It has taken me almost three months since the World Cup to realize why I am not allowed to follow sports and to laugh at long last on the marital moratorium: I am a sports menace. I have a natural ability to get people to jump in on my plans and in the sporting world this is called "inciting hooliganism."
"Hey y'all - let's go do karaoke even though only one of us sings and we all have stage fright." And the gang says, OK!
"If I lead a church will you come, even though you say you aren't religious and churches freak you out?" And the crew says, Sure, why not?
These are endearing and admirable traits when used for the good of humanity and honky tonk bands. (October 2, 8 o'clock, the Playing Field on Richmond's Broad Street. Be there and wear your dancing shoes.) But something about sports turns me into the Rasputin of the arena. Suddenly good, innocent people find themselves in bad places letting me act like an ass and bending to my fanatical will.
It is for YOUR OWN GOOD that I not be allowed to become a Saints devotee. If I were to follow the Saints this year, chances are some of my devoted readers would wake up in mid-winter with a giant Fleur de Lis tattooed on their backsides wondering how the hell that happened. At least one of you would be injured in a gumbo related accident. Far too many of you would be wearing feathers and flashing your chests come Mardi Gras. Mayhem would ensue and, should they start losing, quite possibly riots.
In the very best scenario I drink your beer and you have to email me play by play updates while I am at the opera. I just can't do that to you. So there you have it. My dark secret. My evil within.
But I know you did not read all this way for that. For my faithful readers who send me such sweet, supportive mail: boobies.
I was prodded, scanned, zapped, felt up, and squeezed by trained professionals and their high tech machines. Three well-educated medical specialists and two very expensive machines confirmed my high opinion of my faithful breasts. They are disease free. The diagnosis was another refrain of a mantra of my life: the problem is just another side effect from the nasty medicines I take.
Don't forget to get your mammograms! Save the ta tas and all that.
Thank you for reading. It keeps me from watching sports.