I bought a warm pierogi and a cup to go at a corner grocery – one of those wide board places with a real butcher and a mustachioed East European woman manning the cigar box. Blood and paprika. Zhank you.
Is there a race or nationality that you're not going to insult in this pathetic story?
I had to go back to the East Bay. Still hadn’t see Chin, and I was going to track down Miss Virginia Crimson to try to get a straight story. I had a few stops to make over there for the benefactor as well; so I would make a day of it.
First stop: The London Square Hotel. I strode confidently to a tall cherry wood desk. An irritated fiftyish clerk looked up from some work. He could determine everything he needed to know about you by the way you walked through the door. His antenna for nuisances and losers was long and unerring. And it was quivering at the sight of me.
I asked him if he could contact Miss Crimson and tell her that Mr. Walters awaited her in the lobby; something about the guy made me phrase it that way. He tapped his pencil and frowned like a bank vice president playing Ebenezer Scrooge at the annual Chamber of Commerce Christmas play. His walrus eyebrows directed me to a small envelope he had already placed on the polished counter – why waste words.
She wrote in fountain ink with a flawless penmanship; her elegance leaped from the hotel stationery despite echoes of old-style sandalwood perfume. Maybe Ebenezer had sprayed some of that shit in a drawer to make the paper smell all fancy like. Back on his first day.
I stalked out. There was a quick move at one of the public phones, nice seats, and semi-private. Was that Horse-Face? A jabbering doorman with hopping epaulets laid into me about parking in the hotel’s circle. “I’ll move it now, your majesty,” I spat at him. I sat in the Dodge, windows up, while he smacked the roof. I found the Oakland Coliseum on my $5.00 map.
I scored the map from this kid in one of those arid suburbs east of LA. I didn’t know where I was. I gave the smirking jerk a whole $5. He thought it was funny - they like, give those things away and this ass gave me $5 for it. He didn’t know my desperate need to be alone. I was buzzed from the long ride from the East in the hot windy June of 1980. The boy was my first human contact in California – how mundane the mystical becomes. Here it was a dusty day at the gas station for the kid, a new day in the magic kingdom for me.
Across a Coliseum parking lot slick with spilled beer and barbecue sauce I half limped to the delivery entrance. I stepped into a dark tunnel opening that normally would have been guarded, but these Raiders were off to a bad start and attendance was down. No one gave a shit. The diehards in the cheap seats sloshed discount swill and spilled venom on the starting quarterback - America's favorite sport.
The luckless object of the fans disaffection was Number 7. A blond fearless Italian quarterback, he should have been the golden boy, but a series of mishaps beyond his control had put the Black & Silver on a downward turn. He born the blame. As is the usual process, drunks in the stands and blockheaded story-starved newsmen would stir up a groundswell for the back up quarterback.
7’s backup was the fallen-from-graces journeyman, Number 16. As I wandered the tunnel looking for the magic portal to the executive suites where I assumed Crimson would be, I was surprised to see 16 in full uniform hunkered down on the cement floor talking intently on a payphone. I wondered where he kept the quarter.
"Didn’t need one. The Professor called into the phone and caught me on my way back from the can. One of my old profs. He’s having relationship problems and wanted someone to talk it over with. Wants to leave his wife. He’s crying, all upset about some woman from the East.” He had cupped the receiver. He looked a little helpless, like the last lobster in the tank at the Safeway – now what?
”I can relate,” I said. “Heard about a guy in the same deal.”
”Look, can you do me a favor?” 16 said. “I’m going to be a while here. I have to out there on the bench even though they won’t play me. If I miss a game they don’t pay. Put my gear on, wrap yourself in this hooded robe, and just sit on the end of the bench.”
”What if something happens?”
"Nothing is going to happen. Nothing ever happens to The Golden Boy. Anyway, it’s close to half-time.” He waited under the robe with his uniform on the cement.
I stripped to my shorts and slipped on the gear. I even put on the shoulder pads. “You’re not getting my nut cup. This is one tough town,” he said handing me the robe.
As I turned to the field opening I stopped, “Say 16, you went to Stanford? Right?”
”Class of ’76.”
"Does that guy have one of those wimpy English names. You know, could be a woman’s; could be a man’s? Noel, Leslie, something like that.”
”Yeah, he’s English. He’s an environmentalist.”
Must be the same prissy moon-struck asshole that she was with – can’t get out of bed I’m so in love with you. “Wish him luck for me. And tell him I said hello.”
I trotted from the tunnel to the empty end of the Raider bench. I had the robe cinched around me. My head was down.
16 was right, there was only a minute left to play in the half. Oakland had the ball on the Bronco's 30-yard line, second down. I heard the mass grunt like a herd of wild burros in quicksand that signifies an NFL play from scrimmage. After the grunt and barrage of curses a mighty roar rose from the stadium.
I peeked through the hood. They were hauling away a fallen christian, one in Black & Silver. The fans were cheering wildly – either Al Davis was in the stands passing out free beer, c-notes and promising a stripper under every Christmas tree, or that was The Golden Boy on the stretcher. With rising panic I looked back to where I left 16. He was waving me onto the field. So were the fans and the players.
There was an alcohol infused group orgasm as I shed the hooded robe and ran to the huddle. My ankle was still sore from the night in Richmond, but like a true warrior I ignored the pain - just win, baby.
Ten stunned Raiders stared at me over the gray crossbars of their black-striped silver helmets. “Who the fuck are you?” a mustache growled. Before I could muster an answer the ref poked his head in, “Boys I started the clock. You got about twenty seconds to get this play off, I’ve got to take a shit.”
"Run right,” I called a play.
"Fuck that. I’m not going to take the ball from you. Those guys are going to want to kill you. You’re not in the union.”
'Throw it to me, Walters.” said a feisty #18.
"OK,” I said. "A pass to 18 then. Thanks, man."
"Your agency did a paper for me back in Maryland – religious revivalism in early 19th Century America.”
”Yes, seventeen hundred words, tons of syllables, money no object.” Until I was asked to leave the campus, college athletics had been very good to the Walters Writing Agency.
”Got a c minus. No hard feelings. Just throw me the ball.”
”Buttonhook right on two,” I snarled assuming the boys would know it was a pass play.
The massive lineman assumed their positions. They looked like a herd of hippos lining up for two-fer Tuesday at the local mud bath. The seconds took an eternity to click; time slowed as they say for the great players. There was talking going on among the rooting hogs. The butt talk seemed to be that there would be no blocking – let this lame punk get a taste of pro football. There would be no assistance from the ref who was cheating to the sideline – didn’t blame the old dude; he was wearing white pants.
Your penchant for the scatological is puerile and disturbing. What’s next a flatulent report?
Frankly all of this disrespect was getting to me. I stood 5 yards behind the center in the shotgun formation, rebellious running back at my side.
The ref further irritated me by clapping his hands and counting down the seconds. On his last clap he jostled the receiver hooked to the stadium’s PA. He farted and the loud report reverberated around the stadium. I took advantage by calling my signals.
”Oremus,” I bellowed arms raised. (oh-ray-moose), the Latin still had power in the hardhat boiled egg side of the Bay. The whole stadium was still save for the panting breath of the stamping Broncos on the other side of the line poised to tear me limb from limb.
"In nomine Patris," I called. I scanned the right side of the Bronco defense – basic zone with the corner drifting in for a piece of the kill. Craftily I swung my eyes to the middle of the field and found the middle linebacker. I dropped my right arm to point him out. I'm not sure why.
”Et Filii.” I saw the left side of the defense was packed in tight. Blitz. I would have to unload that ball pronto.
”Et Spiritus…” Hearing “two” the center rocketed the ball to my unprotected nads. I sidestepped and caught the spit-slicked pigskin in self-defense. My backward motion had planted my back foot in throwing position; so with an alacrity prompted by sheer terror of the heaving behemoths that immediately set upon my destruction, I found the stitches on the ball, brought it back in the manner of Johnny Unitas and whistled it toward the spot where the receiver should be turning. In front of me roiled a mass of retreating black-topped silver hippo flesh.
I staggered off the field feeling like the last oxcart out of Pompeii. I heard another roar. Apparently the bright boy from Maryland had pivoted the wrong way. The ball sailed by him into the awaiting arms of a laughing Bronco. Maybe Bright Eyes was engrossed in recollection of the Millerite doomsday faction. The crowd was still in the full glow of ecstasy over the Golden Boy’s broken leg. They didn’t care about a little ole interception. 16 is the man! At least that’s what they were yelling to me at the top of the tunnel as I snuck in fast behind the waddling ref who had fired the pistol to end the half..
I saw 16 hang up the phone. He wiped sweat off his brow and opened a door marked UTILITY. I followed him in to a shadowy 10 x 10 room. There was a line-up of yellow slop buckets with drying mops draped over the fronts. A single fluorescent fixture lit the space from above. In the back of the room in the shadows behind shelves of cleaning supplies was an old metal desk with a lit small lamp.
16 and & I traded clothes. “Sorry about that pick, 16. I told the guy buttonhook right. I think he turned left, but I couldn’t see shit over the blockers anyway. I don’t know how you guys do it.”
“Buttonhook? Where did you hear that? They haven’t used that term for like forty years.”
“I read all the Chip Hilton books. I never played football. Only in the neighborhood.”
“So, 16, what did Noelle have to say about her? And about me?” I waited for his answer like a panting schoolgirl.
”Oh, he said he never heard of you. But he was sure broke up about that woman. He kept me on the phone forever. But, Mr. Walters, I have to get back to my team. Thank you for filling in for me. Mucho gracias, amigo,” he said in that cool California way.
“De nada. And 16, have a super season.”
He slipped out of the door into the swell of bloodthirsty fanatics that roamed the hall tracking down their fourteenth and fifteenth beers. They clapped him on the back and raised cans to the new hero while celebrating the misfortune of the Golden Boy.
I sat in the nervous light of the utility closet. I faced the broad line of mops that looked like napping strip mall Santas wearing yellow for the fuck of it. “She didn’t even mention me,” I said to the less than jolly graybeards.
“Didn’t fucking mention me,” I yelled. I kicked the first bucket in the row. The mop handles folded my way as the force of the kick jostled each bucket down the row.
“Hey now, hey now,” a high pitched voice said from the depths of the room, “there is no call for that.”
I made some sort of apologetic gesture and helped him straighten the buckets. “Got them set like that for the boys to clean these tunnels after the game. All the puke and spills.” He was a short wiry black man of about sixty. He had large brown eyes on a thin face. He had a cap pushed back on his head. He wore a blue maintenance uniform with the name Captain on his chest.
“Sorry,” I blubbered, “lost my head a little.”
The man had a kind air of country wisdom about him. “A woman will do that to you, for sure,” he said in that odd high voice.
“I don’t know what I did wrong. Starting out is always a struggle. Right?”
“First thing a woman wants is a home. For her. For her children. That’s the onliest thing that matters. A woman has to believe you’re strong enough to get that for her. If she don’t believe in you, she ain’t gonna be with you. That’s all there is to it.”
I tied my shoes as he spoke.
“A fool be fretting over something you can’t fix. Like that professor y’all were talking about. That’s a damn fool.”
“I suppose you’re right, Captain.”
“That’s right. Don’t be a fool.”
“Thanks.” I moved to the door to leave.
“Hold on, hold on. Some woman left a note for you. Nice looking white lady.” He handed me a folded piece of paper as I exited.
I don’t think there had been this much joy over the downfall of an Italian since Mussolini got snagged by the commies at the end of WWII. I rode the giddy wave into the concourse. I read the note next to a tall dried-onion flaked metal table streaked with mustard and ketchup.
Meet me in Santa Rosa tomorrow noon. I will be there. I promise, Virginia.