That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!

Archive for December, 2017

A Story For Christmas, 2017

Posted by kozemp on December 27, 2017

In the last week I’ve been asked why I am a Devils fan and why I am a Chelsea fan.

The answer to why I’m a Devils fan is pretty boring. I didn’t pay attention to hockey until I lived in New Jersey, and the person I started watching hockey with was a Devils fan. And here we are. As stories go it’s not exactly Jane Eyre.

The answer to why I’m a Chelsea fan is (I hope) a little more interesting.

When I first started watching soccer I spent a lot of time researching… well, researching everything. The different teams, the leagues, and eventually where you could go to watch games. This was 2004, mind, a long time before this insane golden age when the game is on anywhere and everywhere all the time. Back then short of maybe one game a week you might get on your local cable operator, if you wanted to watch soccer you had to go to a bar to do it.

And, again, not just any bar like you can now. As I recall, when I started my research on where I could go to watch games on a predictable basis, there were three places in the entire city of Philadelphia where you could do it. Two of them were right in the heart of Center City, and one was this place out in Olde City, right on the edge of Queen Village, that I’d never heard of. “The Dark Horse Pub.”

I spent a good long while trying to determine where to go and eventually decided that this Dark Horse place would probably be easiest and cheapest to park at.

I walked into this bar on a Monday afternoon and watched an absolutely dreadful goalless draw between Charlton and Southampton and before I knew it I was at that bar basically every weekend for almost ten years. I was working there. More or less my entire social life – and at the start I’d been sober for about 5 years – revolved around this soccer bar in Olde City for a decade.

I get that it was a little strange. I got it even at the time.

At the beginning, though, for the longest time I would just go and watch games. I didn’t care who was playing. I knew that I needed to watch more, especially if I wanted to understand what was going on. I started watching soccer – actually really watching it – with the 2004 Olympics and I distinctly recall not knowing why some balls that went over the line were goal kicks and some were corners until sometime in October. I could have googled the rules, I suppose. I’m not sure why I didn’t; for some reason I was determined to learn through osmosis, I suppose. Those days I would just get up and go to the Dark Horse and watch.

I learned quickly enough that some things were “bigger” than others. One of the last games I remember watching as a pure neutral was Manchester United v. Arsenal in October of 2004, which would have been Arsenal’s 50th game in a row without a loss but for some unfortunate events involving Wayne Rooney with Sol Campbell, and Ruud van Nistelrooy with Ashley Cole.

I didn’t care who was playing – at the time I barely KNEW who was playing – but I remember that day, sitting along the rail in the old Rigger Bar next to two Newcastle fans, with astonishing clarity.

I wasn’t a neutral for too long after that. I can’t recall exactly when, but an indeterminate number of weeks later – not too many – I was sitting in the main bar when some guy walked up to me.

“I see you here all the time, man, who’s your team?” he asked.

I said, “I don’t really have one. I just like watching. I’m kinda new.”

This random guy sort of looked just over the top of my head – he was and still is several inches taller than me – tilted his head to the side a bit and shrugged slightly, a gesture I have seen uncounted thousands of times since.

“Well, hey, man,” he said, and jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate a large group at the front of the bar. “Come hang out with us.”

Now understand: the time when I first started watching soccer was the absolute nadir of my existence. I was more miserable and unhappy and antisocial then than I have ever been at any point in my life. Not by choice, mind, just sort of by default. I’d learn eventually (really eventually, in some cases) that all of those things were fixable, but back then? On that day, in that month, in that year, in that place? The odds that I agree to the suggestion that I go hang out with a bunch of strangers are about 3,720 to 1.

I have replayed this situation in my head many, many times over the years, and the conclusion I keep coming to is this: I do not, for the life of me, understand why I said, “sure, okay,” and walked over to talk to those people. I have tried many times to figure out why but in addition to the mists of time – which grow ever mistier as the time gets farther and farther back – there’s some sort of weird mental block that is obscuring my thoughts at the time.

That day I went over to the front of the bar with this weird random guy to meet a bunch of random strangers – aka the ninth circle of social anxiety hell – and I’m fairly certain that I was a Chelsea fan by the time I left a few hours later. In the thirteen years since I have traveled with those people. I’ve been to Chelsea games all over the country with them. I’ve been to Chelsea games in other countries with them. I’ve been to their weddings. We have our own little Christmas party every year. I’ve been to their FAMILIES’ Christmas parties. I’ve spent thousands of hours over the years watching soccer games with them, and thousands of hours more not watching games, just hanging out.

I’ve been to their funerals.

And I have no idea why I started with them. For all of it, all these good and bad things that have happened to me over the years because I said “yes” and walked over and started talking with that group at the front of the bar, I cannot tell you what should be a simple thing: I can’t tell you why. And I need to know why. I don’t mean in this specific case – almost everything I do, every driving impulse I have, is because at the end of the day, I need to understand “WHY?”

I’m not claiming divine providence or anything specifically unnatural acted on me that day, but…

Look.

What we do matters, yes. I can’t imagine any reasonable argument against that, but more and more I am convinced that the reasons why we do those things matters just as much. Maybe more. Intent matters. Context matters. Symbolism or meaining or whatever you want to call it matters. Our lives may be the sum of the things we do but intent and context and symbolism and meaning make up the sum of what we ARE, and I am content to say that what we are is just as critical to being humans as what we do.

Yoda teaches us that “luminous beings are we,” which means that there’s no outward or physical manifestation of the most important parts of us. I tend to think Yoda is right about pretty much everything, but in this case I’m as sure about it as I am about anything, because if Yoda is wrong then Thomas Hobbes is right and our existence is nothing but a series of transactions from cradle to grave, a zero-sum game where no one ever adds anything to the world. And speaking in my capacity as the best poker player you know* I am here to tell you that is not what life is. It absolutely positively is not. I am more sure of this than I am of anything in this world. I have seen and heard and been a part of too many things the rational part of my brain cannot explain, too many extraordinary, inexplicable, magical things for that to be true. I have seen lives changed – forever, irreversibly, profoundly changed – by a few words or a simple gesture.

My life was forever changed for the better by five words in a bar and I guarantee that without them there is zero chance I’m here today sending out this silly little Christmas email for the 10th time or whatever it is. A life for five words.

We can change lives. The lives we change can change others. At the end of the day when the chips are counted, we can all be ahead. That’s the sort of power we have, all of us, and if comic books have taught me anything it’s that power needs to be wielded wisely, and “wielded wisely” is just another way of saying that intent matters. That symbolism matters. That “WHY?” matters. Our existence deforms the universe, like the lady in the comic book said, and THAT is responsibility.

So be good, for goodness’ sake.

Merry Christmas, all.

JLK

* Unless one of you knows Daniel Negreanu.

Advertisements

Posted in Life | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »