Yearning for Wonderland
Football has never called my name. When I watched it, I saw the brutality, the testosterone, the pulverizing repetition.
I avoided it, in fact. All sports bored me. Theatre, poetry, opera, those were the elements that thrilled my soul. In college, I chose friends and boyfriends based on a very simple criteria: no sports. I didn’t want to watch it or hear it.
The only exception was when my brother played football. I promised him that if they went to State that I would dye my hair green, their team’s color. He did and I did and I cheered him on, green pigtails bouncing.
Yet when my college won the NCAA National Championship in 1999, I slammed my window on the rioting outside my dorm, turned up the Maria Callas aria and went back to reading Lord Byron.
I tell you this because sometimes the more profound changes in our lives happen quietly.
When I first dated my now-husband, he told me he liked football. I sort-of hesitated, but reasoned that as I was 31 and not 21, I could take a chance on dating against type. I figured an occasional football game could be tolerated.
Little did I understand that my guy came from the University of Tennessee tradition: not only would he watch the game every week, he would watch it with a passion. He would shout at the tv. He would listen to the pre-game show, the game, the post-game show and the coach’s call-in show.
I was ill-prepared, to be sure. “What’s a Vol?” said I. He would wake me up to the strains of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band playing “Rocky Top”. And, frankly, I can’t pick a color less flattering to me than Tennessee Orange.
But, despite myself, I was starting to be won over. I would wander down mid-game, book in hand, just to sit by him. I let him paint our basement orange. I learned the words to “Rocky Top” as well as the timing to add the all-important “woo!” to the last line. I started finding our Tennessee garden gnome in odd places.
More important, I started to realize why it meant so much to the man I married: the history, the pride and tradition. He had watched Tennessee football with his father and he watched it with his son. And now, I was lucky enough that he wanted to watch it with me.
I still struggled, though. I watched, but without fervor or even much interest. I was in the room without being -present-. He deserved better.
And then two weeks ago, I woke up Saturday morning and laid there, looking at the ceiling. I decided I wasn’t going to do half-hearted any more. I wasn’t going to be a football widow; I was going to be a football -wife-.
So I shook him awake and said, “Sweetie, do you feel okay? The pre-game show isn’t on!” And I brainstormed with him about silly Man Cave additions. I showed him my orange socks and deemed them “lucky”. And I went and watched the game and I cheered for Big Orange.
And then I was able to see the passion and the grace, the commitment in believing in something larger than yourself.
And I learned that life is not about closing yourself off to new joys, but finding new ones with those you love.
Dedicated to Michael, who taught me how to be a proper Vol.
Here is my contribution to last week’s Mid-Week Blues Buster from Jeff Tsuruoka.
This was the inspiration song, “Tu Vo’ Fa’ L’Americano” (You Want to be American?), sung by Fiorello, Jude Law & Matt Damon from “The Incredible Mr. Ripley”.
Cigarette smoke billowed through the orange-tinted spotlight, taking on strange undulating shapes as the dancers shimmied their way through the clouds.
The haze obfuscated the true self. Everyone became better looking, more cool, more charming: the ineffable boost that a buzz of booze and a good smoke could confer.
Except for her boyfriend. He oozed through the crowd and managed to look just as sleazy as he was. He grabbed her around the waist and swung her into the crowd, using her as a wedge to lever his way over to Marco, a prospective client.
The club squealed along with the trumpet, wailed along with the clarinet, throbbed along with the deep thrum of the slap bass. The overhead lamp swung with the bounce of the beat, gleaming off Eddie’s sweaty bald forehead.
Naples wore its most vivid colors tonight. Lemon yellows crashed into avocado greens; her subdued cream dress drowned in a sea of feminine attention-seeking. The heat was oppressive; even the walls of Perma-Stone siding had beads of sweat sliding along its face.
“Eddie, I wanna go,” she mumbled.
“Naw, Betty baby, I’ll show him the American way of doing business.”
He pushed her further into the crowd. Her heel caught in a crack in the terrazzo and she stumbled right into Marco’s arms, knocking his partner into another couple.
“Perdono, signore.” she stuttered. She had bumped her nose on his tie-tack, set with a ruby as big as her thumbnail.
Eddie was on them before she could even straighten the hem of her dress, “Mister Bertolazzi, I just wanted to introduce myself, Eddie Mayhew (rhymes with achoo). You won’t want to forget it because I’m going to show you something that’s gonna save you a lot of money.”
Marco held up a well-manicured hand to Eddie and turned to Betty. “Are you right?” he asked, in perfectly Italianate-accented English.
“Yes, thank you,” she said, flustered, retrieving a tissue from her handbag. “Please forgive my clumsiness.”
He offered his arm and escorted her off the dance floor, leaving Eddie in the wake of fifty other jostling couples. “I hear Americans are good to do business with.”
Here are exactly 150 words for Angela Goff’s Visual Dare. I couldn’t pass up the photo this week.
“Bubble, bubble, toil and—”
“Can it, Flo!” Margie barked.
“I’m freezing,” whined Sue. “I want to go home.”
“Not any warmer in Scotland, ninny,” said Margie, fumbling in her purse for a stick of gum. “Chew this. We promised we’d meet again, in thunder, lightning or rain.”
Sue huddled under her umbrella, “My new pumps are ruined.”
Flo stared off at the rain-smeared Manhattan skyline, “Fair is foul, foul is fair.”
Margie resisted the urge to slap her. Flo always imagined herself as the poetic one: Flo is short for “flowers”, she used to say.
“Florence, please get in position.” Margie smiled till her teeth ached.
They all took their place at the base of the courthouse steps.
A man in a pinstriped suit with perfect creased pants hurried past them.
Margie raised her voice, “Mr. Macbeth, who shall be king hereafter.”
The lawyer turned and they had him.
I managed to stir myself for this week’s Mid-Week Blues Buster, hosted by Jeff Tsuruoka.
The inspiration song for this week is Amy Winehouse, “You Know I’m No Good”. Why not play it while you read?
Between the Cheats
Home again. After missing the hat peg twice, he tossed it on the Formica counter. Shouldering the curtain divider aside, he shuffled into the living room, almost tripping over his wife. “Hell!”
Laura perched on the couch in an immaculate white sheath dress, navy dotted swiss overlay. She always dressed innocent when she was up to no good.
She’d been to the salon. He smelled the whiff of bleach, the sweetish conditioner massaged in to cover the sharp chemicals. Her nails were always painted “Passion Pink”, the lightest whitest pink they had. In her hands, she held a hand-written page filled with closely scribbled lines.
All the curtains were wide open and the early morning light limned her hair with a bright halo. He was hardly able to look at her. “What are you doing up so early?”
When he dropped his coat on the chair, she looked up from her letter with calm expectation. “Go ahead and fix your drink. I know you want it.”
He grimaced, wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. It came away tasting of too many cigarettes and the quick swig of Listerine to mask the telltale vapors of yesterday’s “business lunch” and after-dinner drinks. He noticed his lipstick-collared dress shirt was draped atop the overflowing laundry basket.
“How’s Gladys?” she asked idly, flipping the paper over to read the back.
He paused in pouring his drink, the slick cubes slipping to kiss the golden whisky. “I told you, I went over to John’s office. We were up half the night working on the Masterson account.”
After adding the smallest tap of soda water, he swirled it together, trying to read her unfurrowed brow. “What’s that?” he asked her, running a hand through his hair. It needed to be cut. He’d told her he had it cut last week and met up with Gladys instead.
“It’s a love letter.”
He froze, straining to remember if Gladys had written down any of that blathering nonsense. He lit a cigarette to cover his confusion.
Laura reread one particular line, her lips moving. Her cheeks were flushed, the color too high on her cheekbones to be rouge. “I didn’t say it was for you.” She recrossed her legs, the pointed toe of her pump bopping gently with the radio, a bluesy thread faint in the background.
His laughter was a surprised bark, careening off the wall to bounce back at him.
The placid pale blue of her eyes studied his rumpled trousers, “You might want to get those cleaned.”
He noticed the iron wasn’t even plugged in. There was a sudden bitter taste at the back of his throat. He stubbed the cigarette out in the bubbled glass ashtray with impatient precision.
She was dressed to go out, even with her handbag waiting on the prickly wool of the couch. He had promised her to get that couch reupholstered in leather, he remembered with a start.
He picked his way to the tweed recliner. Penny’s toys were scattered everywhere. He stepped on her Francie doll and swore, kicking it away.
Laura opened her bag and dropped the letter in. Coolly, she drew out a cigarette and lit it, snapping the clasp shut with a decided click.
The palms of his hands burst into sweat. “Since when do you smoke?”
“Since when do I do anything I prefer?”
The sun bounced off the pitiless diamond on her finger, momentarily dazzling him. Standing, she drew on her gloves.
“Where are you going?” he croaked.
Kindly, absently, she patted his shoulder, “You should tell Gladys that a beehive really isn’t flattering for her face shape.”
Her heels clicked on the way out, a staccato record of his life walking out the door.
This is for Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction.
The word this week is: Flight.
“Your hair is such a bird’s nest,” said her mother.
She ran a comb severely through Ellie’s ringlets, neatly dividing the curls from one side to the other.
Ellie wished she wouldn’t say such things. When her mother tugged too hard, the birds always took flight.
The birds did make such a mess.