What was tying it all together?
Whatever it was, it had to do with urine.
Eager to eat a chicken-fried steak and eggs, I walked by the bathrooms on my way to our booth. A small female who resembled a cute puppy leaned in, grabbed my arm, stopped me. Her eyes were wideâ€¦ her lip considered tremblingâ€¦ and she told me, in a hushed voice, to be on the lookout for “a sea of urine.”
I offered my condolences and moved on. There were things to do, notes to record, chicken fried steaks to eat. But that small girl turned out to be a Shakespearean prophet.
And the tragedy belonged to all of us.
Just 14 hours earlier, we were prime candidates for citizenship. Shirts tucked in, metaphorically. Freshly bathed. Sober, kinda.
It was the first day of what would eventually be called the January Heat Wave of 2011. It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit by 11am. Not a cloud in the sky. I spent the sunny morning walking Jimothy (a dog) through Belmont Shore. I spotted three women in bikinis. I watched the waves crest. I felt uncharacteristically content. This is why we fight.
Jimothy’s walk was uneventful except for a skirmish which was the result of a brief run-in with a surly Pomeranian. The small dog caught him off-guard at first, but once Jimothy had his footing, a simple growl was all it took to send the impish puppy running. I took it as an omen. The Steelers were going to win the AFC semi-final that afternoon.
My claim of Steelers fandom has usually been countered by fevered chants of bandwagon, but as an Orange County resident who grew up in the 90s, I was allowed to pick whatever team I wanted. Chargers were an awful pick then and they are a painful pick now. Raiders and Rams were traitors. I wanted a team that represented my personality. So in 1999 (pre-dating both Super Bowl wins by 7 years) I picked the Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis-led Steelers. I have witnesses.
This game against Baltimore was huge — either a win or a loss would affect my mood, severely.
I am a strange man. I’ve never denied that, on the record. I have my quirks. I see poetry and omens in the most banal places. And this lets boring things take on massive importance. There’s a very large magnifying glass in my brain — and it does not have an off switch.
So this was more than a game for me. If my team beat the rivals in a game this bigâ€¦ it could mean I’ve done something right. It could mean I’m winning too. But if we lostâ€¦
I realize all this would, absolutely, result in a classification of INSANE (probably with one of those giant rubber stamps they push into red ink before they slam it on your paperwork) if I were to ever explain it to a medical professional. But I think it’s healthy. It makes my days more interesting. I put it on par with the man whose only quirk is that he turns the deadbolt three times before he leaves. Everything’s fine unless (until) he chops his wife up with an axe for stopping him after the second deadbolt turn. Sure, both our ticks have horrendous psychological implications for the future, but that’s later. After the game, at least.
Sports fandom is mysterious, I do not claim to understand it. I simply know that I am under its spell. It fits my talent for loving things which have no direct connection to me.
So I set out with Doc, Jeeps, and PJ to “cover” the event for Our Thursday — the scoreline and top plays would be well recorded by our competitors, but the real story would go unnoticed by the mainstream media:
What strange forces cause us to stare at a box while drinking 6 dollar beers in the middle of a perfectly good day? What is all this nonsense? What’s it about?
Unfortunately, moments after the ball was kicked off, everything began to unravel.
It all started very innocently. A bet was made in order to keep the non-sportsfans interested. Four players, four picks. Everyone held a card: Baltimore TD, Baltimore FG, Pittsburgh TD, Pittsburgh FG. Whoever’s card scored got immunity and the power to name the next round’s drink. The remaining three losers played evens and odds to determine the Ultimate Loser. The Ultimate Loser bought the round. Rinse, Repeat.
It was a very wholesome thing to do. Very grown-up. And in a game most pundits thought would be low scoring, we might as well have cracked out Trivial Pursuit: Pop Culture Edition. But thenâ€¦
May we have some chips and guacamole? Oh there’s a Bloody Mary bar, isn’t that quaint. We should get some while we wait for this game to pick upâ€¦Hey look it’s 6$ for a pint of beer, but only 8$ for a pitcher — one of each for everyone just to be safe. We’d like some tequila, the cheapest you haveâ€¦ okay but do you have anything cheaper than Albertson’s brand? Man these limes are good we should get more tequila so we can get more limes!
And all that was well and good, but every time another one of our degenerate good-for-nothing friends came, they would buy us a round out of charity, and somewhere in between the 2nd Fuzzy Navel and the 3rd order of guacamole, everything disintegrated.
Here are the notes in my phone:
We know the motives, quirks, and histories of our favorite fictional characters better than most of our friends. Should we do something about this? Special Agent Dale Cooper would never stand for such a thing.
Women who wear ROETHLISBERGER jerseys these days send an entirely different message than they did three years ago.
The bar has push faucets?! What are they gonna offer us next, VHS tapes? Motion sensors or nothing!
Obliviated — Obliterated mixed with Oblivious. Is this catchy?
This bar has too much hoity-toity in it. Someone else needs to barf on the floor like PJ did.
Remember Janet and the Nacho station!
As you can see, horrendously inadequate.
The degradation was clear.
I looked up at the TV. Nothing. I closed one eye. Steelers win. An incredible come from behind victory!
Well that’s good news.
I looked down at my phone. Still nothing but gibberish.
Inexplicably, I had lost.
How could this be?
A new plan was put forth to “ride the wave”. This involved watching the second game while cooking tri-tip, bathing (again), drinking, meeting the Laker cheerleaders at some terrible bar, and more drinking. I went along in the name of solidarity, and with the quickly-flickering hope that I could uncover something at the last minute and get my metaphorical term paper in on time.
Nothing yielded anything.
So there we were at the ShoreTide. PJ had stumbled home hours ago. Jeeps was snoring softly, her face mooshed against the plastic covered booth. Doc was catatonic, but his eyes were open a real soldier. And I was disheartened, chicken fried steak in front of me, those ominous words echoing in my ears a sea of urine, and I needed the damn story — otherwise what had been the point of it all?
It was time to muster whatever observational strength I had left. It was time to squeegee my 3rd eye and find the heart of the matter. I investigated my surroundings. My fingers blitzkrieg’d my phone’s wordpad. I recorded every detailâ€¦ for insight.
A five year old Chinese boy plays with a YoYo with a furious intensityâ€¦ what does he know?
In the far booth, a legal-midget lady is tickling her tattooed beau, fingers dashing over his potbelly with no remorseâ€¦ teardrops are falling and the entire booth is convulsing — tiny jelly containers and maple syrup pitchers are rattling up and down in the tickle-quakeâ€¦ the victim attempts to escape, but there is nowhere to go, all exits blocked by plexiglass, wheat toast, and midget fingersâ€¦ his yelps for help are drowned out by pain-ridden gigglesâ€¦ and she screams at him with furious anger, “IT’S GONE TOO FAR, YOU MUST BE STOPPED, THIS IS THE END, YOU WON’T SEE TOMORROW YOU FAT BASTARD, IT’S REALLY COME TO THIS, BLAME NO ONE BUT YOURSELF!”
And one booth over, the zombie drunks are eating plates of hashbrowns with their bare hands, some even eschewing that and actually burying their face in the plate, natural desire overcoming any patience for silverware.
The waitress walks by, and we nickname her Dead.
Dead, bring us a glass of water.
Dead, I asked for jelly, not jam.
Dead, I like your tattoos.
She’s handling it remarkably well — which is to say she doesn’t react at all. There’s nothing inside. Not even a spark. She notices nothing.
She’s basically the owner of a porno-flick-cinema, unfazed by the substances she’s been forced to mop for years, natural tolerance developed to the point of sensory deprivation.
Who can blame her?
A mob of people are waiting outside, getting restless. They bang on the door, even attempt to bum-rush the tiny Phillipino hostess who is forced to swat them with menus until they are corralled back behind the “white line”â€¦
Our table is dangerously close to the entrance, and I arm myself with a butterknife, jabbing it in the air wildly any time a native makes a move towards my seat.
But we are outnumbered.
Dead, bring us more butterknives.
The chicken fried steak glances up at me, but it might be too late. The Phillipino hostess has given up, retreated to the kitchen and started flashing the light switch up and down in morse code. Dead hands us the check and asks if we have any cigarettes.
I glance to Doc, hoping he has something to offer, but his face was a strange portrait, bordering Claymation:
Country gravy dribbling down his chin, hashbrowns delicately stuck in his beard like burrs on cotton socks, eyes glassy and supported by bags of tired skin, a slackjaw with the tiniest amount of drool, there seemed to be an answer thereâ€¦ and then he spoke:
“I’m peeing right now.”
The urine-prophet scampers past our table and out the door.
And we follow as quick as we can. Confronted with himself, Doc has gone hysterical, the stain on his pants melting his confidence and mind altogether. I’m shoving him through the packed and hungry crowd outside, sheltering him from abuse like a teen leaving a controversial abortion clinic, brandishing the butterknife whenever someone gets too close.
Leave him alone! This man just urinated all over himself! Let us through you savages!
We make our way to the residential area, where we have to move quicklyâ€¦ we’ll be even more poorly received there. But Doc stops in his tracks. He leans against a Ford Explorer, 2008. And then he unbuttons his fly and releases what’s been waiting, impatiently, since the diner. He begins to urinate again. Erratically. His balance all wobbly from beer, gravy, and chicken steak. I inform him that he’s peeing on a quality American automobile — and that it’s already a dying industry. He grumbles something about wanting to “desecrate it”. But I can see where it’s all headed, nothing either of us can do to stop it, a sad tragedy paralleling the twin towersâ€¦ the horror, the horror â€¦ His knees are bending, losing integrity. He places both hands on the Explorer and starts waving his pelvis in a desperate attempt to place no more urine on his jeansâ€¦ but this does not work, it makes things worse, and the hose has no controller now. His knees buckle, he collapses, a sea of urine slowly creeping towards the gutterâ€¦ He sobs, and laughs, and sobs some more, and when a group of drunks from the diner walk by, they jump on the opportunity to judge another instead of themselves:
Hey bro, why’d you pee yourself?
And Doc looked up, squinted one eye, and yelled at the top of his lungs:
It was a diversion!
And there it was.
I saw it.
We were all diverting. From what? From the ShoreTide, from the tattoos, from our midget girlfriends, from the hashbrown troughs, from the hangover, from the madness, from the school, from the loss, from the floods of waste, from our jobs, from our Pomeranians, from the sunrise, from all of it. We were trying to run ahead of ourselves and do our dirty deeds before the Present Version of ourselves caught up and judged us for our stains.
And we hoped to do all of this while desecrating a small piece of our father’s America [via the Ford Explorer].
It was beautiful. Human. Truthful. Tragic. I typed this down in my phone and confirmed my psychosis, apologized for doubting it earlierâ€¦ oh man I thought we’d lost it completely thereâ€¦ an incredible come from behind victory.
I helped Doc walk back to the apartment with a strong posture and a sober aura. My discovery had implications of introspective-irony, but I didn’t dwell on them. Later. This was the pattern I was looking for. I could taste it on my tongueâ€¦ it was Gold urine and Black asphalt.