It's called football but I can't get used to it. I've lived in America for over six years and I'll say gas rather than petrol, cookies rather than biscuits, but football goes against the grain. I was never the most ardent devotee of the English game, but there it was in all our lives regardless of personal preference, and it was hard to miss the crucial detail of it involving persons moving a ball around a field by means of a foot, hence the name. Here in America, the ball is shaped more like an egg and, aside from an occasional kick, it's mostly conveyed around the field by hand. The game looks more like Rugby to me, and I hated Rugby at school so I have trouble seeing the attraction.
Every evening I watch the local news on KENS5, even though there's never much actual news. Usually it's five minutes of shootings on the southside and then straight to fifteen minutes of weather reported in far more detail than anyone could ever possibly need, particularly given that nine times out of ten, the forecast is that it will probably be fucking hot. As the forecast ends, big-faced Bill Taylor does his John Wayne swagger across the studio to where big-faced Joe Reinagel is waiting, and thusly does slow moving horseplay ensue, how 'bout them Cowboys, and that sort of thing with playful upper-arm punches. Big-faced Joe Reinagel turns to the camera and tells us something about either the San Antonio Spurs, the Dallas Cowboys, or Tim Duncan, and he tells it as though it's important. We'll get a clip of some player discussing an upcoming game. Usually the player will express the hope of his team winning the upcoming game, and maybe he'll offer reassurance that he himself will be doing his absolute best to ensure that his team wins the game; and somehow we need to see this night after night, year after year, as though any of it matters; like it's ever going to be anything different.
So, LaMarcus Aldridge, your guys are up against the Houston Armadillos tonight. How do you think that's going to play out?
I'm hoping we lose!
Big-faced Joe Reinagel will talk a little more about sports, then flash a cheeky grin and promise us a sight like unto none which has ever before been beheldest by man, coming right up after the break; then two minutes of commercials promising an end to either constipation or diarrhea, and back to the studio for a YouTube clip from the Cowboys game at the weekend.
The ball is thrown.
The man catches the ball.
Then he drops the ball.
Hooting and hollering is then generated by Bill, Joe, Sarah, and the guy with the creepy eyebrows, whatever the fuck he's called. Can you beat that!? You see how he just dropped that puppy!? He had it in the bag but - man oh man - he just couldn't hold onto that thing, and he dropped it.
We watch the clip two or three times as the hooting and hollering increases. Well, did you ever see anything like that!?
Nevertheless, here I am at the Dub Farris Athletic Park to watch a friendly game of handegg. Dub Farris was a much celebrated high school handegg coach around these parts, and I don't understand the name either. Let's just assume his parents were fans of King Tubby. I'm at the Dub Farris Athletic Park to watch Brandeis playing Clark, rival high school handegg teams. I don't really have a horse in this race, or even any interest in being here beyond the purely anthropological, but Tommy plays saxophone in the Brandeis marching band and he's one of Junior's best friends.
'Give it a chance,' my wife almost certainly tells me at some point or other, although the main reason she ever brings me along to this kind of thing is because she finds my sarcasm entertaining.
We join a long, long queue for tickets. The field and stands are just behind us, fenced off, and things are already warming up - cartwheels, cheerleaders, some bloke dressed as a horse and so on. It's like a child's drawing of the circus in which every act occurs simultaneously in different parts of the ring, except this is really happening. Imagine a science-fiction scenario in which the universe will cease to exist should its creator ever experience even a fleeting instance of boredom. Maybe that's what's going on right here, right now. Five minutes shuffle along until we have tickets, so we go in.
We walk along before the bleachers. To our left is the field and a million entertainments occurring all at once in a last desperate bid to keep the creator amused because we don't want to die. To our right is seating occupied by a multitude of parents, relatives, friends, and possibly also the guy who made the universe and everything in it. The blue and orange of Brandeis are to be seen everywhere, on clothing, painted on faces, and even a couple of comedy wigs resembling a duotone version of the one worn by Jonathan King when he performed One For You, One For Me on Top of the Pops back in 1978. There's so much blue and orange that we could be in some high contrast drama about an android hunting down meth-cooking alien prostitutes in cyberspace.
We pass before a large phalanx of cheerleaders, then up the steps to the back. The cheerleaders are in front of us as we look down, and the band are to the right, all dressed as Quality Street soldiers. They're jittery because they're kids, all nervously fingering flutes, cornets, a tuba, twirling drum sticks and so on. Far across on the other side of the field I see bleachers full of Clark people, parents, relatives, friends, and their own phalanx of cheerleaders directly facing our lot, and the same with our respective marching bands. Maybe they're going to engage in some kind of face off, trying to out pom-pom each other, or to blast each other off the back of the stadium with honking and hooting. The Clark mascot is dressed as a cougar, whilst ours - and I'm somehow already thinking of Brandeis as us - is a bronco, specifically a horse. The potential seems endless, even without anyone having mistakenly thought I was referring to a sexually adventurous older woman.
Tiny figures are moving around on the field, hunching together, but I can't tell if they're warming up or the game has started. There's a scoreboard to my right but I don't understand that either. I seem to be experiencing information overload. Everything is happening at the same time and at maximum amplification. It's a lot like listening to the first SPK album.
Time passes and I am able to identify which part of the scoreboard counts down towards full time - or whatever they call it here - four quarters, each of fifteen minutes duration. The game is in progress and I missed it. There was no change in emphasis to mark the transition from pre-game horseshit to actual play, possibly because the game is the least important part of why we should all be gathered here this evening.
Once the egg is in play, it's up to the players to get it as far along the field towards the opposition's end zone. They can kick the egg, or they can pick it up and run with it. Once the egg and those players in possession have vanished beneath a mountain of bodies, everything stops, then starts again from this new position further along the field. If you're watching the game on television, the time during which play remains suspended will be given over either to advertising, or to the punditry of commentators describing what we've just seen with our own eyes, or even to interviews with the players in which they describe what we saw them doing with our own eyes and then tell us whether they feel either happy or sad about it.
It isn't like Rugby after all, or at least there's enough of a difference for even me to be able to see it. Incredibly, it looks a lot more violent, and at last I understand why players wear all that padding and the helmet. A couple of them are concussed and carried off on stretchers during the first half.
On the other hand, it reminds me a lot of basketball. As with basketball, I'm watching a distant huddle of people, and it's fairly difficult to tell what is going on; and the shortfall is addressed by the information overload of the band and the cheerleaders and the audience responding as one with carefully choreographed enthusiasm. It's probably not quite so shit as basketball because there's no Jumbotron exorting us to make some noise, and no fucking DJ, but it's close enough as to make no difference.
One thing which handegg doesn't remind me of is football, meaning the game in which players move a ball around with their feet, the game which you can actually identify as being a game. The beauty of football is that you can see what's happening from halfway across the stadium, and something usually is happening, and is happening up and down the full length of the field, and it can continue happening without stopping every thirty fucking seconds. Due to the nature of the game, supporters will give the play of the ball their full concentration, because the game moves and it's quite easy to miss something; and support will be expressed spontaneously, just whatever comes into your head without the need of bells, whistles, and associated horseshit designed to plug every single orifice in your attention span.
We lasted the first half, comprising a couple of distended periods of stop-start-stop-start-stop-start play each adding up to fifteen minutes. Half time is more of everything happening at once, but with marching bands on the field, honking away as they form Busby Berkeley patterns across the pseudo-grass - oh say can you see and the usual selection of star spangled hits, then a few others thrown in, hooting interpretations of popular hair metal ballads and Seven Nation Army by the Shite Stripes, and then Rock and Roll by Gary Glitter, hit maker and renowned kiddy fiddler. I guess his reputation didn't take quite the same nose dive over here as it did back in England, although in its defense, the song does go do-do-dooo-do Hey! do-der-do so it's real catchy and all.
We leave at half-time, having dutifully watched tiny distant figures form patterns and make music, and one of those tiny distant figures was Tommy. I don't know how the rest of the game will go, but it doesn't seem to matter because I have no idea how the half that I've just seen went; because it never was about the game, and handegg is not really even sport as I understand it.
Handegg is about the experience of being there, being part of the team and singing along with the approved anthems. Watching handegg is more or less the same as standing in Red Square back in the good old days of the cold war, watching tanks roll past, prefixing marching legions of perfectly choreographed soldiers turning as one to salute Brezhnev without breaking a step, then more tanks, then those massive trucks with ICBMs on the back. Handegg is the American wing of the Spectacle reinforcing itself by yelling at you in surround sound for a couple of hours, occupying every sensory node with a dumb patriotic noise whilst reminding you that if you fall behind on those payments then maybe you don't really love America, freedom, and Gaaard after all, you communist!
So personally, I'm not a fan, but at least I'm now able to loathe it with authority.