Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Praise You! (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line, 10)

Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape. This is part 10; click here for the Table of Contents.

We've come a long long way together,
through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you, baby.
I have to praise you like I should.

It took about one-billionth of a second for me to agree that, yes, I very much did want to go onto the field and see where the team plays and otherwise tour the stadium. Sweetie may have been thinking that this might not be the most romantic way to spend our honeymoon, but she went along with it and before long, we were walking through the hallways to head out onto the field.

I walked out there, holding Sweetie's hand, and looked around. It was only the third time I'd ever stood on field at a football stadium, and for some reason that's always an exciting thing to do.

The first time I'd ever gone onto a football field -- a real football field, not the football field we used as kids behind my house, the one that we set up in the outfield of the baseball diamond at the park -- was when my dad took me and my brothers to see a Packers playoff game. That was in 1982, and I wasn't quite sure what a "playoff" game was and didn't really care for the Packers. As a kid, I wasn't sports-crazy at all, and wasn't that into sports, period. (That's a surprising thing, I know, to hear from a guy who wore glasses, was fat, and liked comic books and Dungeons and Dragons). But my dad liked sports, and my brothers liked sports, and so I got involved in some sports-related things from time to time, trying my hardest to be an athlete, too, or at least to like sports. But in 1982, I still didn't care that much for sports and, truth be told, would rather not have gone to the Packers' game, period.

The game was in December, or maybe early January, and winter in Green Bay is not a time to be outdoors. This particular playoff game took place on a day that not only was winter, but was winter-with-a-vengeance, as it had snowed, a lot, and was extremely cold, too. We drove up there with my dad and brothers and two uncles along for good measure, and then tried to enjoy ourselves while tailgating.

I've never understood tailgating, either. I don't get the appeal of cooking on a grill at the back of my car, eating out of a cooler and balancing plates on my legs. Grilling itself is dumb, to me, and I don't do that at all anymore. The last time I ever grilled anything was, actually, shortly after I married Sweetie, when her sisters and brother came to visit us in our apartment. For dinner on the Saturday night, we decided to grill hamburgers on the little charcoal grill we had on the balcony. That marked the only time in my life I had been solely responsible for grilling food, and I botched it pretty nicely, taking forever to get the coals going and then forever to cook the burgers, which didn't look very appetizing when they were done, a pile of burnt-on-the-outside, pink-on-the-inside, only-vaguely-patty-shaped pieces of meat sitting on the plate, almost untouched, for dinner.

I never tried to cook anything on a grill again, unless you count the George Foreman grill I got for Sweetie a couple years back.

Tailgating is grilling, only stupider: It's done in a parking lot, surrounded by a bunch of other people eating out of the backs of their cars, almost a mockery of the Dust Bowl migration, as if a bunch of people in garish colors had decided to re-enact families on a pilgrimage to find work. Everything that someone wants to use to "tailgate" has to be packed into the car in advance, and then unpacked and then packed in again, and what's the point of hauling not only your lunch but all the things needed to make your lunch to the place where you're going to eat? Life is tough enough without deliberately making it tougher by setting up mock challenges for ourselves. Tailgating is the answer to the question: I wonder if there's some way I could, in this day and age, make it almost unimaginably hard to eat a cheeseburger?

But we tailgated that day, cooking burgers and hot dogs at 10 a.m. on a grill set on a pile of snow, and then wrapping ourselves not just in triple-layers of clothing but also blankets and sleeping bags to stay warm, before carrying all those blankets and sleeping bags into the stadium, where we re-wrapped our bodies and watched a game played in the most uninviting conditions imaginable: sitting in snow, outside, in subzero temperatures, in a position where most of the time we couldn't see what was going on.

I don't even remember anything about the game beyond the fact that the Packers won, and I only remember that because when they won, people rushed onto the field to tear down the goalposts, and my brother Matt and I went to join them. (That's parenting, 1980s-style: My dad freely let a 13- and 11-year-old wander, in freezing temperatures, into a crazed mob of people storming the field to tear things down.) We got down onto Lambeau Field and wandered around trying to (in my case, at least) figure out what we should be doing, now.

Eventually, my dad found us, we left the stadium, went back home, and at some point feeling returned to my toes, mostly.

The second time I was on a football field was in my third year of law school. Each year, the 3rd-year law students had a ceremony where, during Homecoming, they would take walking canes and march onto the field at Camp Randall Stadium. I did that my third year, too, and joined the procession of law students walking single-file across the field towards the opposite goal post. On the opposite side, law students were supposed to throw their cane over the goal post and try to catch it on the other side. Legend has it that if you caught your cane, you'd win your first case. Drop it, and you'd lose your first case.

I walked across, feeling rather silly even though nobody in the stadium would really know who I was, and, when I got to the field goal post, I tossed my cane up, where it joined a jumble of other canes in the air. A few inches later, I was underneath a hailstorm of canes and stuck my hand up while ducking my head down, and I caught a cane... just not my cane, because the cane I caught had some sort of little marker or tassle on it, and had been decorated by someone. I had not decorated my cane.

I took the decoration off and left the field carrying the now-it's-my-cane. I don't know what legend says about the lawyer smart enough to do that, but I'm sure it's something good.

Standing on the field at the Bills' stadium, then, was the third and definitely the best time I'd done that. I was right in the end zone, holding Sweetie's hand while the Bills' guy took our picture, and I was pointing towards the end zone and telling Sweetie about various big things that had taken place on the field, while looking up at the stands and remembering the times I'd watched on TV and seen this stadium full of fans, cheering and yelling and rooting. It was the high point of the day until, a moment later, the Bills' guy said:

"How'd you like to go into the locker room?" He motioned up the ramp we'd just come down, and said it was the ramp that the players ran out of the locker room onto the field, and that at the top was the players' locker room.

I forgot for a moment that this was May, about as far away from the beginning or end of a football season as you can get. What I thought was: The locker room! I'm going to get to meet Doug Flutie! And other Bills players that I can't think of right now!

"We'd love to," I told him, and motioned to Sweetie to follow him up the ramp. We walked the few feet up there, and got to the door.

"Your wife can't come in," the man said. "There may be some guys in there, after all," the guy said. "So no women allowed." That posed a problem: This was my honeymoon, after all: we were beginning to spend the rest of our life together, in better and worse and sickness and health and all of that. I didn't want to separate from Sweetie on our honeymoon. Then again, how often does one get a chance to maybe bump into Doug Flutie and have him give you an autograph and promise to invite you to the Superbowl and be your pal for life?

"I'll be right back," I told Sweetie.

1 comment:

Dorothy Rimson said...