It's a shame that our disappointments resonate with us more profoundly than our joys and achievements. We seem to learn early on to mark our memory with humiliations, harsh correction of youth almost as if to steel ourselves against the unmet expectations of a mature life. One becomes unnaturally dependent on disappointment; it leaves us without a worry about the future, other than needing to brace for the next big blow against our good fortune. It's our armor. As a Jets fan, one gets accustomed to this stuff as if it were a threadbare childhood blanket on which a grown man might still rely when all else fails him in his insomniac wee small hours of helplessness, panic and fear. Surely there has to be a better way.
Someone asked me during the week, "Who do I pick?" They meant the football pool, of course. Even as we speak, all around my beloved country people are circling the winners for this week's football pool. In a nation that has made football - baseball's Harley-riding bastard half-brother - as its favorite, the game has become just another opportunity to build better bonding in the only really game that truly matters in America - your corporate job. Football players build their bodies into a state of fitness appropriate to their position to win the American salary lottery and die young. Meanwhile, the office pools that follow the results of their performances enable office people to feel as though they can endure yet another day in each other's company. It is a worthy sacrifice.
So, my co-workers ask me, as a Jets fan:
"OK, Roche. Miami-Jets. Who do I pick?"
Here comes that feeling of nauseous self-defeat building up in me - that hellish green effervescence of fear and loathing. This is no ordinary matter of which they speak. Can't I just indulge their simple request? It doesn't mean the same to them, and why should it? What's the big fucking deal?
"Ugghhh," I say, as if they have asked me to recite the Nicene Creed. "Yeeeah, um... Jesus. Miami, I guess."
They look at me with a look of surprise. They don't get it. "But,...you're a Jets fan."
I can't elude the sense of ominousness, the feeling that it's all for naught. I'm already thinking 0-1. This is the feeling that season openers always bring.
"Yeah, well, whatever." And that's the best I can do.
Earlier in the summer, there were the Fantasy Football people - the people for whom a single football team is not enough. No. Fantasy Football people imagine themselves as hiring mercenaries to do their work. They amass a hearty band of flamboyant wide receivers, tree-stump-legged running backs, and a bunch of underachieving young quarterbacks who operate with the same guile as little guys in the neighborhood who borrow their big brothers' cars.
"Right," says one co-worker, a Fantasy Football person. "OK." He shakes his head, expecting me to explain the meaning of it all. "Uh, OK. I had to pick one of your guys in the Fantasy draft, I think. A guy with a really freakin' weird name. I wrote it down." He produces a crumpled notepad paper that looks as though it has been retrieved from the back pockets of several pairs of pants. "Jerricho Stuckey." He looks up from what was probably a drunken scrawl, searching for his original reasoning. "So...is that...good?"
He doesn't know what he's talking about, but it's not his fault. Until Brett Favre came to the Jets there was literally no one outside of Gang Green Land whom anyone knew. He's talking about two separate human beings who will ultimately be responsible for two separate touchdown catches in the Jets' first victory of the 2008 season. It's not his fault that both men have unusual names. "Jerricho Cotchery" sounds like a distant cousin of Uncle Jesse on the Dukes of Hazzard, while "Chansi Stuckey" has a name that a grade school kid might give to a stuffed animal. But still. One can't help but be mischievous.
"I think you mean Chansi Cotchery, don't you?" I ask.
"Wait," he says, producing a pen. "Lemme write that down."
To be continued....