The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with … when you know that you’ve had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare ate any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it … and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark tea-time of the soul.”
-Douglas Adams describing the pain of immortality in “Life, the Universe, and Everything”
For a certain group of folks this day means everything. And for this group it will always be joyful and disappointing, wondrous and awful. When I say “certain group” I am referring to a group of people so painfully shallow that their shallowness actually enters another dimension and develops depth. I am referring to sports fans. I am referring to myself.
I’m not talking about the people that “look forward” to football season because they enjoy the weather and the tailgaters and the get togethers. I’m not talking about the people that choose an “outfit” for the home opener. I’m not even talking about the people that watch nearly every game and by the end of the season know the name of at least one offensive lineman. Those people are great. They have lives. They have perspective. They probably have spouses and well adjusted children.
To be in this certain group something had to have gone wrong somewhere. Neuronal pathways deep in the primitive parts of our brain got crossed somehow. We are like the future alcoholic who takes his first drink as a teen and begins to associate all feelings of peace and belonging with that first throat burning taste of liquor. We are messed up. We are hopeless addicts.
For us the gap between the end of basketball season and the beginning of football season is quiet annual agony. We are zombified versions of ourselves, still there in form but utterly empty inside. This is our long dark tea-time of the soul.
Sure we have found ways to fill the void. We follow young teens who are prospective recruits and alternately tweet creepily sycophantic or knuckle draggingly awful things at them depending on where they choose to spend their college years. We troll the internet in search of any mention of our team or our coach or our players and fire off tweets and emails accusing journalists and television entities of horrible bias against us. This is a good time and all but it doesn’t cut it. It is beer when we need whiskey. It is codeine when we need Oxy.
We read practice reports and listen to press conferences as if they actually mean anything. We learn the nicknames the coaches call the players and feel smug. We scan injury reports and believe it when they say the “surgery went well”. We place special meaning in the term “he had a good off-season”.
These things are fun but ultimately ungratifying.
This illness, this disease of ours, demands games. We must have concrete winners and losers, heroes and goats. All else is intangible and therefore meaningless.
Which brings us to today. The first game. We smile at our kids a little more. We hug our partners. We make sure our gambling accounts are solvent. We spend large swathes of time making sandwiches.
We are aquiver.
“The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”
Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”
The day itself was glorious, sunny but almost cool in the shade. A few wispy clouds gave the sky some depth. Ellis and I trudged to the stadium mostly in silence, taking it in, wondering if there would be ice cream at the game.
There were men with man-buns and cut off jeans. There were women in full faced make-up that was starting to melt and drip at the corners. They wore heels that made them walk like they were on stilts and sometimes bared mid-riffs that overflowed like a freshly baked pastry. There were men with man-buns and slacks. There were 60 year old impeccably put together women dragging drunken obese husbands in bermuda shorts and sunglasses. There were more men with man-buns. Ellis would stop and stare silently, turning and continuing to stare after they passed, appreciating the entire 360 degrees of the vision.
Going up the Cleveland Street hill we must have looked rather pitiful because a couple cars stopped and offered us rides.
“Thank You” Ellis yelled. “You are nice people but we NEVER get in the car with STRANGERS!”
I just nodded and shrugged my shoulders. She was right. We trudged on.
A Skynnard cover band played “Gimme Three Steps”, sweaty traffic cops waved us around, and pre-teen boys slid down an incredibly steep grass hill on torn up cardboard boxes. I took Ellis over so she could watch them tumble and fall.
“This is why Orthopedics is an excellent career choice”, I said.
“Boys are stupid” Ellis felt the need to add.
As we got near the stadium we noticed an inordinate number of young women wearing loose tank tops with visible bras. They paid almost no attention to me and usually had an expression like they smelled something vaguely unpleasant as they passed by.
“Daddy I can see their bras”, Ellis said.
“Yes Ellis. Yes you can.”, I said - dreading the day formal bra talk became part of our tiny household.
The crowds got thicker as we approached. We bumped people and held hands tightly, wafts of sweat and stale beer in the air. Ellis started randomly singing a song she made up as she went along - her version of freestyle rap.
“What is the Metric system?
I do not care.
When I bumped into that girl
It kind of hurt my hair.”
We may have to give up hope for the gifted and talented programs for this one.
We wandered inside. There is a dampness, a moldiness under the bleachers. It makes me indescribably happy. There was no ice cream, only sno-cones. Ellis wept until she realized she could make a rainbow design with the syrup.
We found our seats and as usual my rear end and the rear ends of many of my neighbors were proving far too wide for the limited vision of the people in charge of seat design. As we squeezed in hip to hip with strangers I explained things to Ellis.
“Sacrificing personal boundaries is the price we pay for fandom.”
She wasn’t listening. She was introducing herself to strangers. “Brooks Ellis is my favorite player. Cuz my name is on the back of his jersey. And his first name is Brooks and I have a good friend named Brooks.”
“Brooks Ellis sucks” came out in slightly slurred form from a guy a row in front of us. He began opining about a Hog player from the late’60’s. “Now THAT was a linebacker” he said to his wife who I can only assume was tidying up mental plans to bury her husband in the back yard.
“These are OUR people” I whispered to Ellis and smiled. I felt warm and comfortable. My long dark tea-time of the soul was about to end.
On to the first What I Know of the 2016 season:
“For a moment nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”
\tI know I learned nothing from this game. A huge pile of nothing.
\tI know Austin Allen might be good. I know Austin Allen might be bad. I knew this before.
\tI know I find Baker Mayfield annoying, mostly because his name is “Baker”.
\tI know Ellis went on too many plane trips this summer because when she saw an Exit sign at the game she turned to me and said “ The nearest exit MAY be behind you.”
\tI know Dan Mullen is likely facing some regrets regarding recent career choices.
\tI know the O-line for the Hogs has a long, long, long way to go.
\tI know Oliver Miller looked pretty good at the halftime presentation.
\tI know I need to find out where he shops so I can get me some of them giant shirts and shorts.
\tI know Ellis was discussing her rainbow sno-cone and said “All of the colors of the rainbow are GIRL colors. All the rest - black, brown, grey, white - are BOY colors. Thats what Jesus and God said.”
\tI know the most interesting thing I notice about the clips of old Hog games they show is how big the freaking shoulder pads used to be.
\tI know I have reached a new stage of hair thinning. It involves deep regret about neglecting to put sunblock on my scalp.
\tI know I like Randy Ramsey but I find a defensive end wearing #10 disconcerting.
\tI know it was fun to add the quick slant to our offensive arsenal.
\tI know that if you don’t add a counter with a pump fake and the receiver going deeper then folks will just jump the route.
\tI know, or more accurately I hope, that Robb Smith was holding back his REAL plan for dealing with spread offenses until the TCU game. Because if that wasn’t the case then he learned absolutely nothing by being brutalized repeatedly last season.
\tI know Clemson badly disrupted Auburn with aggression. Press coverage. Line stunts and slants. Linebackers charging gaps at the snap.
\tI know we don’t have Clemson personnel but ANYTHING would be better than our soft approach to spreads the last year plus.
\tI know that for a program like Arkansas an uncomfortable amount of each season’s success depends on LUCK.
\tI know there was a lot of good luck against Auburn last year, and a whole bunch against Ole Miss. And there was bad luck against Mississippi State.
\tI know much of our offense is designed around dictating what the defense must do and our defense needs to start doing the same in the other direction.
\tI know if we don’t take away the screens from spread teams very little else will matter.
\tI know I have a painting that hangs in my bedroom. It is of a pig jumping out over a pond. He appears to be in mid-flight. One night Ellis asked about the “story” of the picture. We had the following conversation:
ME: Well everyone always says pigs can’t fly. But this pig doesn’t care. He’s gonna try anyway.
ELLIS: Can he fly?
ME: Well … no. He’s a pig.
ELLIS: So what happens to him?
ME: I don’t know. He probably splashes into the pond.
ELLIS: Can pigs swim?
ME: I honestly don’t know.
ELLIS: (long thoughtful pause) So what’s the moral of the story?
ME: I don’t know. What do you think it is?
ELLIS: (more thinking) Don’t try to fly. You will probably drown like that pig.
\tI know my parenting skills are in serious question.
\tI know the long dark tea-time of our collective souls has temporarily ended yet again.
\tI know this pleases me.
Until Next Time
Twitter : @seattlehog