Football is for the Birds (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(The Weekly Writing Challenge wanted me to go all gonzo.  This, if you ask me, is a perfect way to describe sports fans.)

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” –Hunter S. Thompson

**********

There are energies that refuse to be contained.  They ignore the laws of physics, the urgings of common decency, and they defy all logic.  Such is the boundless exuberance that I experienced last Friday.

Walking into work I was cheerfully greeted by my coworkers.  The normal uniform of black pants, replete with the array of creases and minor stains that come from work wear and iron-shunners, was joined by bright blue t-shirts.  These tops, all shiny and covered in hashtags and the giant number “12” on them, echoed loudly the celebratory nature of most of the city.

If spirit were mid-rif tops, you could see all of Seattle's belly-buttons.

If spirit were mid-rif tops, you could see all of Seattle’s belly-buttons.

I, a person who does not mind being the odd man out, ignored the choice to dress differently.  I tucked my black polo shirt into my black pants, kicked on my black shoes, paid my hair that I assumed was still combed, and went out onto the busy floor.

Customers bustled back and forth with the sort of amped-up attitude that is normally saved for Black Friday shoppers.  Outside on the streets, random citizens could be heard to bellow “Sea-HAWKS” as forcefully as possible to no one in particular.  Like some sort of tribal call from one hilltop village to the surrounding clans, he hoped that his boisterous call would be answered in kind by a likewise enthused comrade in spirit.

Seattle: Where the subtle need not apply (image from here)

Seattle: Where the subtle need not apply (image from here)

If a painter had wanted to capture the scene, she would have only needed three colors; blue, green, and black (The black is to paint all the “other” objects.  Trees, people, lakes; that sort of thing).  All the buildings with high-tech lights have changed their palettes.  The twin-tower hotel has one building rimmed with green, the other in blue.  Pacific Science Center’s arches are blue.  Little blue flags decorate small office windows but beam with big pride.  Even the Space Needle is not immune.  The body is alit with a blue hue while the very top is taking a hint from the nearby construction cranes.  Yes, much like its leaner but buffer cousins, the Seattle landmark is topped with a giant blue flag with the number “12” flapping and billowing for all to see.

Back inside my store, things were not much different.  There was a constant wave of blue and green filling up peripheral visions.  Scarfs, beanies, jackets, hoodies, caps, baby onesies; all were clad in a two-tone color scheme.  If you were to look for a guy in a Seahawks jacket, you were sure to have many fellows to choose from.  The variables changed.  Some jackets were faded with age and some had flaking letters.  The new converts were easy to find; their apparel was fresh and crisp, much like their recent interest in the NFL.

A woman, dutifully clad in a Seahawks scarf, had been excitedly chittering and chattering to one of my more sports-loving coworkers.  As she made her way towards the exit, she turned her attention to me.

“How ‘bout those Hawks, eh?”  The woman smiled merrily in front of me.  It was difficult to tell if she was missing a few teeth or if they were off from the color that chompers usually have.  Her glasses were small but thick, and her matted white hair lay limply by her cheeks, like a pom-pom ready to be shaken back to life.

Image from here

Image from here

“It’s quite a thing”, I added.  My hope was to be agreeable, but not to reveal my level of disinterest.

“They’re gonna win it on Saturday!”  She said as her teeth displayed her fervor.

“Well, they just might”, I added.

“Naw”, she said as her excited eyes danced and her head swooshed from side to side as she shook her locks in rebuttal.  “Them other folks don’t know how to play in the weather.  Our boys do.  They’re gonna win!”

I considered offering the bevy of clichés that ran through my head.  However, as pertinent as counting eggs before they are hatched and pride coming before the fall was, I couldn’t do it to her.  I feigned a slight smile and replied, “They just might.”

Still somewhat irked by my lack of interest, she realized I had been as cooperative as I was going to be and she bounded off to find a fellow supporter to root with.

“What’s going on?”  My coworker approached me out of curiosity.  A delightful, warm, and charming woman looked quite cute in her brand new Seahawks shirt.  She had gone all out; the area under her eyes was covered in blue decals, her short brown hair was pulled back in a Seahawks headband, and the wrist was adorned in a blue Seahawks jumbo-sized rubber-band.

“Oh, I wasn’t giving her the response she wanted”, I replied with a shrug.

“And why not?”  The small gal, about a foot shorter than me, moved a few inches closer to me.

“I just don’t root for anyone”, I answered.  “I don’t have a team.”

seahawks-hd-blue-wallpaper“The Seahawks are your team!”  The response was not so much an offering of help, but an edict.  Her normally adorable eyes grew large and serious.  The unspoken message of her unblinking look spoke louder than our Guinness record-breaking fans; get on board.  Now.

Clearly, there was no such thing as “somewhat” supporting “my” team.  Only complete and utter excitement would sate the passionate community around me.  Forget going the whole nine yards; only one hundred yards would content the rabid devotees that threatened to overwhelm me if I didn’t hungrily rush the field with them.  When surrounded by sports fans that are yearning for a championship, the rest of us must tread lightly least we are accused of foul play.

Cereal Adventures

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” –Mark Twain

**********

Nighttime was in earnest.  The college campus that often bustled with activity was almost somber in tone.  Classes had started two days ago and the activities around the grassy lawns hadn’t quite begun for the year.  Laura opened her door just a hair and listened.  A few doors down a stereo was barely audible, but nothing else.  Laura threw her door open, her living quarters now open to all who might be in the vicinity.  Yet, as she stood there with her hands on her hips and a majestic pose, she was greeted with… nothing.

Even college kids in 1899 knew how to have more fun

Even college kids in 1899 knew how to have more fun

There were no young people running franticly through the halls with rolls of toilet paper streaming and waving behind them, no blindfolded and terrified males nervously tiptoed around as they suffered the indignities of initiation.  As disgusting as Laura thought public displays of affection were, she would have even settled for a couple groping and slobbering over each other as they decided who would say “Good night” last.

Laura felt betrayed.  Here she was, stuck in a dorm, and there were no shenanigans to partake in.  Years and years of romantic comedies and frat humor flicks had convinced her that she was in a world of wacky hijinks and excitement.  So where were they?

She was aware there were things to do.  She could feel her newly assigned twelve-page paper calling to her from her tiny excuse for a desk.  In the corner, next to her bright-blue desk lamp, two massive tomes beckoned to her.  The books demanded tribute in the form of highlighter marks and scribbled notes; their pages glowing with impressive wisdom.  Laura’s jaw tightened and her eyes narrowed as she felt the stress kick in.  She had no hunger for knowledge at that moment, just the old-fashioned nagging in her tummy.

Laura returned to her desk, sneered at her homework, and lifted the biggest book only to retrieve her student I.D. from its resting place underneath.  Having obtained it, she let the book fall back to the wood surface with a satisfying “thunk”.  Laura looked at herself in the mirror and shrugged.  The loose ponytail kept the hair out of her face, which was important for what she had planned.  Her “I do my own stunts” t-shirt and flannel pants were “cute enough” for venturing out.  More importantly to her, they were comfortable.  In a final act of defiance, she slid her feet into her dog slippers and headed out.

"Fear me!  Or Beer Me.  Whichever."

“Fear me! Or Beer Me. Whichever.”

The door locked after some effort with a newly-cut key, and Laura was quickly confronted by the hallway’s Panther painting.  The Panthers were everywhere on campus.  The inescapable school mascot bared its teeth, threatened to attack with its claws, and generally annoyed the new student.  She was here for the biology program, not the jocks.

If she were cornered, Laura would admit that she liked sports.  Her dad was on a softball team and her cheers were always the loudest.  She had participated in track and did well, though was never driven enough to be the best.  Her new school had a different view on the matter.  They were determined to let everyone know that they were, without a doubt, the greatest college team ever; despite what their scores were.

“Panther Power!” was painted in bold red letters with jagged edges accented with black and white to ensure that one’s full attention was directed at the jungle cat.  As if those mighty words weren’t enough, many of the displays had sub-posts beneath the panther image.  “Tear ‘em apart!”, “Rend your way to victory!”, and the worst of them all, “No one says no to a panther!”  The last of the phrases was, either by mistake or through incredibly poor planning, put up in the campus’ main cafeteria.  The two biggest fraternities warred back and forth every day over whose supposedly brilliant idea it was to use the absurd phrase as a pick up line.  Too often, when a girl turned down the opportunity to date a guy whose shirts were tighter than hers, he had his retort all planned out.  Sometimes it was with a wink, quite often a guttural roar or a raised eyebrow.  In the end, they all tried to assure the lucky lady that no one said no to this panther.

According to Laura’s high school English teacher and college confidant, the women had learned to deal with it over the decades.  Some freshmen girls thought it was cute, but most just accepted it as one more silly ritual.  The women would make a retort about neutering the boys, the women would be accused of having their claws out; it was one of those things.

Laura didn’t feel assimilated to the “Panther Pack”.  She had husky slippers and she liked them.  Her favorite aunt had given them to her the winter before she had moved away from Laura’s family.  Her aunt always encouraged Laura to do things that nobody else would.  Laura thought it appropriate that it was her aunt’s canine gift that was now shedding its fuzz on the floors that were covered in cat paw prints.  Plus, the slippers were unbelievably soft.  After all the years of use, they still kept that mysterious inner warmth about them.  She only wore socks when she had to; the slippers were better than any shoes could ever be.  The only downside to the worn and faded apparel was that they no longer yipped reliably when she squeezed the ears.  Years of micro-chipped barking had come and gone.  Now, if she jumped on a flat surface hard enough, she could sometimes get a little squeaky, metallic sound to emanate from them.  It was not a concern for Laura.  She liked the footwear because of how they felt and the impish nature they brought out in her, not because of the defunct technology.

Stepping outside the dorm’s side entrance, Laura couldn’t believe how quiet it was.  The Quad, the statues, even the tennis courts, famous for the drinks that were often “served”; all were empty.  Laura looked to her slippers, which grinned happily.  Whatever their owner had in mind, the feet-dogs were all too eager to join in.  Their pack was small in numbers, but they were entirely loyal to their commander.

The street lights glowed pleasantly along the sidewalk.  There were errant bushes here and there, but Laura had always felt safe on campus.  Maybe it was the dogs that she had with her, or perhaps it was the generally ho-hum nature of the grounds, but confrontations and muggings were the last thing she had to worry about.  Right now, it was hunger that was attacking Laura.  Happily, the cafeteria was open all night.

The front door slid open as Laura approached, waited patiently for the student to enter, and then returned to its resting state.  Laura headed straight for the cereal bar.  There, like some sort of plastic and industrial amalgamation, stood giant tubes full of carbohydrate delights.  The plexi-glass chutes stood tall before her.  Some filled were half way, some threatened to burst out the top.  All the chutes were transparent so the students wouldn’t have to bother with the pesky chore of reading the signs that dutifully decorated each tube.  At the base, each chute curved just enough to prevent too much food from spilling out, yet a small collection of grains and crumbs gathered around the bottom of each.

Bliss

Bliss

Taking a bowl and cupping it in both her hands, she held the container close to her stomach.  She surveyed the many choices.  Laura knew healthy food wasn’t going to suit her mood or her appetite.  She considered her options; there were bran flakes with real fruit added or perhaps the frosted whole grains.  In the end, she listened to her gut and selected exactly what her stomach wanted— Lucky Charms.

A small plastic scoop, presumably manufactured with ice in mind, was tethered to the counter.  Laura loosened the grip on the bowl and placed it on the shelf.  She picked up the scoop and started to fill the bowl.  Two small heaps of questionably-healthy food later, the college student’s brain began churning away.  Laura turned her attention from the bottom of the chute, filled mostly with brown pieces, to the top.  Two feet higher up there was an abundance of color.  The sugary marshmallows called out to her.  Those were the succulent bits she was after, not the commonplace dribble that looked bland and tasteless.

As she stood up on her tip toes, the cord that reigned in the scooped pulled in protest.  The fading chip in Laura’s slipper weakly chirped, encouraging her to keep trying.  A leg lift here, a slight twist in her arm there, and finally, success.  She found that she could just manage to get the scoop into the opening at the top.  She shoved the scoop in, pulled out an array of artificial colors, and watched as her late night snack came alive.  Pouring a carton of milk over her victory meal, Laura was elated.  Her hips slid to the left, slid to the right, and convinced her elbows to join in the fun.  A few moments into her celebration dance, Laura noticed two students who had been huddled over their books across the room were now smirking and whispering at her antics.  Laura shrugged her shoulders, tossed them the obligatory wave, and took her bowl to the cashier.  The expression on his face showed that he too had seen her dispensing methods and rhythmic swaying.

Too busy playin', Yo

Too busy playin’, Yo

“You really put in the effort for that cereal didn’t you?”  The fellow college student looked at her and was clearly amused.  Adorned in a wrinkled polo shirt, four-day gristle littering his chin, and untied shoelaces, he was clearly a master of proper etiquette and appearances.

“Hey, I like what I like.  Somebody had already picked all the marshmallows out of the bottom.  I was evening it up.”

“Yeah, some people really paw over the food.”

Laura caught what she felt was a Panther-reference, but let it go.  “Well, some of us have discerning tastes.  We connoisseurs of finer dining will go the extra mile.  C’mon, they taste better.”

“I was just having a little fun with you”, he said as he swiped her ID card through the register.  He noticeably glanced up and down, engaging in two very different kinds of checking-out.  “No need to get all catty about it.  I’m not trying to rub your fur the wrong way.”

“Uggggh”, Laura groaned she grabbed her card back.  “You wanna ogle me, that’s one thing.  I am rather adorable.  But you guys…. You just can’t stop will you?”  She turned to take in the rest of the cafeteria and gestured with her non-cereal laden hand towards her fellow classmates in the room.  All seven of them.

“C’mon people!  Break out of the imposed restraints!  Be yourselves, not some enforced false-community that dresses the same and acts the same.  Be a Vonegut, be a Picasso, be whoever you want!”

The fourteen eyes looked back at her and only blinked in reply.  A second passed; then two, and then ten.  The audience was no longer startled and they went back to scribbling in their notebooks and checking their syllabi on their laptops, their pencils and desktops adorned with the university’s mascot.

“Wow”, the scruffy cashier replied.  “You kinda lost it there.  Don’t you have any school pride?”

Laura glared and made her way towards the door.  She grumbled and hugged her cherished food.  It was the only ally, other than her always stalwart slippers, that knew how to have any fun.  She threw the polo-clad youth one last look and said, “Close, but no dice pal.  A pride refers to lions, not panthers.  You’re in college for crying out loud, read a book.”

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