It's hard for me to believe it, but there was once a time when I had abandoned the idea of teaching. After working at several adjunct teaching gigs in colleges around Philly, I took up work as a glorified assistant in medical editing. I had an office job. I had a cubicle. I worked nine to five and took the bus everyday like thousands upon thousands of other city workers. I edited documents having to do with treatment protocols for gynecologic disorders. I processed drug toxicity reports on chemotherapies being performed on patients throughout the country. It was depressing work that became surprisingly dull, as even the most existentially taxing work can. And, too the degree that one could be, I was truly lousy at it.
In keeping with the general malaise of this particular stretch in my professional life, what business trips there were took us to metropolises like Buffalo, Detroit, Des Moines, and Atlanta. There are thousands of worse places in America to travel (well, actually, maybe not in Detroit's case, God bless its dead heart) but even around the time of the Olympics, Atlanta was remarkably frustrating. After we landed anywhere, my job was to find a restaurant that everybody in the office would enjoy for dinner. Not too expensive, not too spicy, not too quaint, not too vulgar, not too mainstream, not too exotic, not too loud, not too quiet. For some reason, the only place anybody could agree on was Benihana, which I could never find. I don't think I was looking very hard. It wouldn't have made that much difference, anyway. You can't make miserable people happy.
But then one miraculous year, we went to San Diego for a conference. Now I had never been to California, the nearest faraway place. I had spent an entire life in the shadow of California's extraordinary hold on the pop imagination. Everything cool was out there. Carson had moved out there. It's where Jim Rockford's brown Firebird and personal trailer were parked. And it was where the power had shifted. I lived in the suburban east, with detours in Memphis and St. Louis. In the American course of things, the west was where everything was going; consider Nixon and Reagan from sunny California, Cheney from Idaho, the Bushes of Texas, McCain of Arizona and Palin of Alaska. Ferraro of New York and Kerry and Dukakis from Massachusetts weren't the big winners. The east was no longer the arrogant seat of landed wealth about which Fitzgerald wrote; even he had died in the service of his new master in Hollywood. If I taught myself as a fan to love something as distant to my imagination as a Jets championship, then California represented everything I both scorned and coveted. The @#$%ing Raiders of Los Angeles, the 49ers of San Francisco. The West Coast Offense. This was how I thought of California when I arrived.
And after seven days in San Diego, I didn't want to go home. I found myself getting up with the morning fog that burned off before midday and going happily to my stupid work meetings, feeling great. I rented a bike and traveled downtown, then into the hills surrounding the city, just on the boundaries of the endless desert to the city's east. Everywhere I went I saw cars parked in the driveways of modern homes that had survived the years without any of the rain, slush and schmutz that turned cars back home into rustbuckets. There were Delorean-age Pontiacs, vintage Iaccoca Ford Mustangs in perfect condition, and Family Squires with faux paneling looking brand new. It was as if I were suddenly transported to my sun-addled memories of traveling on my bike in the summers of the 70's as a boy with nothing to do, only add the palm trees and an almost synthetically blue sky. For the first time in about eight years, I didn't smoke a single cigarette for week. I did go and buy an expensive cigar after a pleasant night of gorging and smoked it along the lapping waters of the Marina. And it was January. My co-workers were their usual bullying, drunken, petty, selfish, gruesome selves, but it just didn't bother me as much. Look at that sky. How could I go home?
We all have to go home, though. And to the team we love.
I watched the end of that absurd Chargers-Broncos game last week, thinking that the only thing that could possibly have disoriented the muscular Ed Hochuli's mind was the breathless speed at which both offenses moved the ball around. If the Jets have any hope against San Diego tomorrow night, it is because the Bolts' defense is apparently not what it could be. But my stars. It was like an old AFL game (and yes, I know Dick Enberg said during the broadcast, but I thought it before he said it) with teams throwing the ball with gusto. It's like Sid Gillman rose up from the grave, lit his empty pipe, straightened his still undecayed bow tie, and shot his zombie eyes at Philip Rivers, insisting to the volatile quarterback that "Lance" was somewhere in the corner to be found. "Throw it there, John. Like we saw in the films." Rather than correct his new, undead coach (Gillman had already eaten the brains of Norv Turner) and tell him he was not in fact John Hadl, Rivers just did as he was told. He even thought about talking the injured Tomlinson into loaning him his jersey just to make the zombie man happy. Frightened by the notion of being mistaken for Frank Tripucka or Marlin Briscoe, Jay Cutler did the same on the other side of the ball. Free form football. Just go out. That's the original west coast offense.
I'm still filled with an old jealousy of the west. It's sunnier and happier there. God, what I wouldn't give to see the Jets do that. Throw the ball. Use the space. Open it up. When the Jets come home after Monday night's game, I'm afraid of what they'll have to report. Unlike most people I talk to (here I claim the right to speak thus) I'm not encouraged by anything the Jets are doing, especially after last week's unimaginative loss. I feel like Brian Shottenheimer's promises to spread the offense out more are like my similar pledges to use laptop computers in my English class more often. I want to modernize and challenge the game plan, just not right now. Not yet. Can it wait a week? The answer is no. The modern world can't wait. Listen to the zombie.