21. A Truly Sacred Institution
Straight after the hallelujah party we men returned the three little time bombs to their mother and nicked off to the football. What nice men we are! By the way when I talk of football I am not talking of the F.A Cup, no, no, no that is European football, Americans would call that soccer. And by the way, I am not talking about Otago creaming everyone in the N.P.C(70), no, no, no Americans would call that rugby. And I am not talking about that strange aerial ping-pong(71) that those Victorian and South Australians play and that we call Aussie Rules. I am naturally enough talking about American Football. It would be almost worth trying to get a U.N. decree stating that football is played with a round ball predominantly by Europeans, South Americans and Africans, that rugby is played with an oval ball, that a rugby paddock has uprights with a cross-bar and is predominantly played by those in the Southern Hemisphere and Europeans, that Aussie Rules be called Aussie Rules and is played entirely in a small pocket of Australia, and that Grid Iron is played almost solely in North America with an oval ball and uprights that aren’t entirely upright. There you go, I have solved all the important problems of the world in one paragraph. Now all I need to do is solve the U.N. problems and work out how to get this decree passed in sometime less that twenty years.
But back to the football. I had a glorious time at this high school match. I do not know where to start: that whole experience was so normal and so strange for me all at the same time. Coming from a hardcore rugby culture this felt like oval ball Mars but it was great. Perhaps I should get off my chest the part that we rugby heads just cannot understand. The uniforms, oh my the uniforms! These dudes play football with towels and hand warmers around their waists. Like guys, if you cannot hack the game, play soccer or take up writing or something like that, shesh I just can’t understand towels and hand warmers on the pitch. As for helmets and the huge padding, toughen up guys and why the hang do you need to stop so often for injury time when you’re wrapped up in cotton wool? Once I managed to get through these issues, I was almost set to enjoy the game. The only other thing that tripped me up was that I never realised that depending on whether it is a defensive or offensive play, half the stinkin’ team runs off the field and a new team comes on. I thought American football was for tough guys. I think your average soccer player probably needs more stamina. But that aside, I had a fantastic night.
We were watching the Battlin’ Billies play a team that I only knew as the visitors, ’cause that is what the score board said. We had a brass band, cheerleaders, homecoming queen, hot dogs and lots more. Though I am an avid Packers fan, my understanding of the rules was a little lame at the best. My friend sat beside me and talked me through all of the rules, and of course he was also working, interacting with students and parents from his church, but for the first time I got a decent handle on the rules and thus a heap more enjoyment of the game. It had always been a dream of mine to see an American Football game and I was acutely aware of that as I was watching. I was also very excited as my friend had promised me that he would be able to take me to a Packers game in a few weeks time. For me this was just a warm up. By the way the Billies kicked butt. I photographed the scoreboard with eleven minutes and fifty-five seconds to go in the third quarter and the Billies were up thirty four to six.
For me the homecoming and brass band stuff was boring, but it was great to witness it on the sideline of American culture. I had a great night and returned home afterwards to watch a cool college game on the tele(72), where for the first time I had a decent handle on the rules. And by the way, I never did get to that Packers game, it sucked, I sulked, I was so so disappointed. That game was to be the pinnacle of my American trip. Grrr, I was not a happy chappy. It was a simple case of big-hearted America and I have been let down by big hearted America before, it is just that this time, I was so flying in the moment, so, so excited, that I did not see the disappointment coming. Once I just thought that Americans, and I do very much so exclude Canadians and Mexicans from this, were just slack with their big hearts. But after spending a month working almost entirely with Americans, I have concluded that there is just some weird cultural thing going down that I just cannot work out. It goes something like this: ‘Hey Kel, I know you are a big Packers fan. When I get home I am going to buy you the best Packers jersey that I can find’. Then I reply, ‘Hey that is cool, thanks heaps for that’. Then a month later I email them and say, ‘How is that jersey coming along? Please let me know when you have sent it and I will start checking the mail box for it?’ And inevitably it never turns up. Now I don’t care, because I simply do not expect ninety percent of such things to arrive. I have learnt in such situations to thank God for the person’s heart and then pray that they actually keep what I have deemed to be their word. I used to think that it was a case of people simply having a big and generous heart and not being able to follow through on it, but now I am not so sure. During the month that I worked with North Americans, many times I asked people to do things and they agreed. Then about ten minutes before the event I asked these people if they had done as I had asked. Most times the people had not, but they still could confirm that they had agreed to do it, but for some reason this did not actually transfer into them doing it. Something was lost in translation, I don’t know what, but I do not that it was lost. These were good-hearted-well meaning people. They weren’t slack or lazy, something just got lost in there.
Anyhow, end result is I never got to my Packers game, I could have pushed, or wheeled and dealed my way into it, but stuck as I am in my Kiwi culture I did not want to offend my friend who I understood had promised it. So unbeknown to me at the time, this Battlin’ Billies game was to be the highlight, to date, of my American Football experiences. It way surpassed my previous best of some eleven years, this being whilst in Texas, watching the Packers live on tele, take the Super Bowl away from the Cowboys. And before I finish this subject, I am very thankful to those Americans who I understand promise things like care packages and actually deliver on them; in my line of work they are such a huge blessing.
By the way, I have connected to the internet and logged into Facebook. The cafe that I forgot the name of was called ‘House of Coffee, Greater Grace’. They have some photos on their Facebook site, most of them are of a conference and a few of them are of a couple ‘jammin’ for Jesus’.
Back to the story. In the later hours of the evening, on the way home from the football, I was taken by surprise for one last Halloween fling. We started passing pick-up trucks towing car trailers. Both trailer and tray were full of ghost, goblin and witch attired Mexican kids. Like twenty kids transiting in a pack. The pick-up would cruise the streets in search of its quarry. Then upon finding some poor scalped toothy grinning pumpkin awash with that saintly orange glow, it would scream to a halt. But even before it stopped tides of Mexican kids were jumping off the back and running towards the glowing-pumpkined house. It would not have surprised me if the pumpkins themselves turned their toothy grins into horrified expressions of terror before frantically rolling to the safe hiding place of under a deck chair. I wonder in these situations if the pumpkins have learnt how to extinguish their own candles.
Anyhow the Mexican spooks ran up to the door, rang the door bell, yelled ‘Trick a treat’. But the clear message was you better find a treat, because there are a lot of us here to disappoint. I watched one lady in fear start handing out treats, but quickly reach a point of exasperation and sternly command the kids that that was enough, as at the same time she was trying to wrench back her rapidly-emptying-scalped-pumpkin of candy. Poor lady looked terrified. I mean I have lived in Mexico and I know that Mexican kids can be beautiful, well behaved kids and often cuter than most. But think for a minute of Miss Martha who opens her door in the dark at ten o’clock at night to be confronted by twenty or so goblins, ghosts and witches all on sugar highs, screaming at her and each other in a language that she probably understands very little of. I mean no wonder Texans supposedly like to carry guns.
And thus finished the best, the weirdest and the only, truly American Halloween that I have ever experienced. It was fun, weird yes, but fun. How much of it did I truly understand? Well some. Did it help me understand and come closer to my American friends? Hang yeah. Did it lead me to want to bring Halloween into any of my cultures? Hang no. Can I encapsulate Halloween from the perspective of my own mongrel Kiwi culture? Hang yeah. “Halloween is both a conflict that America has with itself and an intrinsic part of its psyche. At the same time, it is both everything that America stands for and stands against. Halloween is a pus-filled-pimple in the face of Americana.” And I both loved and hated it, all at the same time. If you are travelling to the land of the free and brave, make sure your trip coincides with this truly scared and sacrilegious holiday.
Tune in for my next edition to hear about my weird friend and a rock rescue.
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Ta (Kiwi for thank you)