Wednesday, November 10, 2010

8 Things to Do (When You're Not Watching Football)

She’s 35 years old, brunette, petite, still maintains the cheerleader figure that belonged to her in high school because five days a week she jogs around the neighborhood. She’s smart, too, has an M.A. in Psych, although at present she’s not a practicing counselor which enables her to stay at home with her three- and five-year-old. 

So how is it an intelligent, fit woman finds herself bumping around the house like some kind of displaced person, just her and the kids, for great swaths of Sunday and Saturday afternoons and into the evening? How is it when she relates to her man during these times she’s like some throwback version of ultra feminine person, walking on soft feet and bringing to him in the Royal TV Den a refilled bowl of chips or a fresh foamy beer, all of it presented with a lovely smile which he doesn't even notice?

The explanation is simple. It’s football season. She’s become a Football Widow.

Hut! Hut! - Game Day 
And throughout the house there resounds from time to time the husband’s guttural outbursts of Yes! and Man! and Stinking, lousy! and Oh my I don’t believe this! and Did you see that? and Hurry up with the replay! and Just throw it! and Not up the middle again! and Go for it! Go for it!

How did she not notice before the wedding?
It’s not like she doesn’t understand football. When she was a cheerleader she dated a nickelback. (Of course, the guy had great hands, but his kissing? Left something to be desired.) Then she met her beloved. She knew he liked football, but something happened after they got married and bought the 52-inch screen.

He pats the couch space beside him and invites her to join in, but she just can’t do it. She understands his desire to see 22-men at a time strive for perfection as they struggle mightily against gravity and their own and other bodies and they collide at high speed and also there's the drama of not knowing how it will turn out.

For sixty minutes each game is so much more a heightened reality than anything he experiences at his dull place of work. Still, how many times can you watch it?

I Go Over to the Other Side
This season, as a result of being Van Winkled, I’ve joined the Football Widows. My project compels me to make do without the NCAA or NFL until we reach the great end zone of Super Bowl on February 6, 2011 and then, mercifully, it will all be over.

So I’m learning some of what the Football Widows do on game day.

1 - Hang out with other women in the kitchen and make snacks for the men.
2 - Deliver snacks, return to kitchen, eat some of the snacks themselves.
3 - Talk to other women about diets.
4 - Depressed, change subject to the kids, then how much the men watch football.
5 - Go shopping together (this is another way football is good for the economy).
6 - Come home, talk about what they bought, talk about the kids and how they hope the boys don’t grow up to watch as much football as their dads and how they hope the girls don’t marry someone who watches as much football as their dad.
7 - Clean up the TV room which now looks like an apocalypse of beer bottles, beer cans, pretzel crumbs, spilled chips, every surface well salted.

This routine is about as expected and formal as the refs in striped shirts, the chain markers, the goal posts, and the big men lining up in formation. That’s why it occurred to me to shake things up a little

One More Thing To Try
Here's the thing: gender need not keep one out of the game. The Football Widows can create their own powerful collisions, their own moments of unexpected grace when arms reach in and haul in the precious prize, or racing heartbeats lead one past obstacles into the brighter light. No need to put on pads and helmets. The women can go into the living room and read poetry together.

What did I just say?

Yes, this is a radical response. Bringing up the subject of poetry is like going for it and throwing a bomb on fourth down and long at your own twenty-yard line. It’s like putting in the third string quarterback. It's like trying for a 70-yard field goal. It’s like—Well, perhaps you know what I mean. Who in America reads poetry anymore?

I for one and I think I have some pretty good reasons to do so, too.

That's why for one moment I'd like to consider a certain short poem and what it might do for the Football Widows. It’s by the late James Wright.

Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.

What amazes me about Wright’s poem is its brevity. It’s only 73 words long, yet I feel like I know his people, their dreams and their sorrows. Wright accomplishes this through the use of a part of speech that can prove disastrous in less talented hands: adjectives.

But there’s no piling up flowery descriptors here. Wright’s an emotional poet, not a sentimental one. Each adjective is designed to shape the rough noun it modifies until it becomes three dimensional to us.

I notice how Wright adds a "ruptured" to "night watchman" so it's no longer just some man. I'm looking at a stooped figure who has had more than his share of losses, physical and spiritual. His being "ruptured" even as he seeks solace at the football game moves me. A similar effect is achieved by the application of adjectives elsewhere: long (beers), gray (faces), proud (fathers), starved (pullets), and (beautiful).

And there’s that wonderful adverb in the last line.


Was James Wright a football fan or was he on the side of the Football Widows? I’d love to hear my collection of Football Widows discuss that. And maybe after that we could read a lovely nature poem by Mary Oliver. Then it would be halftime. We could drift back into the kitchen. You know, I’m not adverse to those little meatballs with toothpicks poking through them. The longer I live, the more I realize--poetry can take on many forms. Who made those anyway? The cheerleader? Does she have a recipe she can give me? Oh, that would be great! Give me a pen, I'll write it down. - V.W.


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