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18

Aug

Fiesole

Fatigue set in badly during the last week of our course. Multiple lessons, a final, and the mounting effects of sleeping on a bed that has more in common with a hammock than a Posturepedic left us dazed more than anything. So, when everything finally came to its close, we were happy to have our tiny little graduation ceremony and then have dinner together one last time before everyone took off to various corners of the earth. The destination for me and Julia, was probably the closest: Fiesole.

Fiesole is Florence before there was any Florence. When thinking about repelling various goths, barbarians, and Romans, would you want to make your home next to a swampy, mosquito-ridden river, or would you want to live at the top of a hill, where the sun cuts through the thin clouds, and a you can see the entire expanse of the valley? Hell, if you were thinking about about repelling guidos from the Jersey Shore, where would you live?

The town’s been there somewhere between 3000 years and 40 years. I can’t be bothered to do this research. The way you get there is by taking a snaking bus ride all the way up its hill for about half an hour. Once there, we looked into several options. We first went toward the Roman amphitheater, which is supposed to be in pristine condition. We say supposed to, because it cost like 30 euros to get in. This ain’t the Colosseo, dudes. Next, we just went up, without knowing where we would go. We had a short picnic, while severely hoping that no weirdos sat near us, and then kept going up. On the way, there was an art gallery in a converted church that featured all sorts of erotic pottery in day-glo colors. A case of the giggles had me leaving there a little early. At the very top of the hill was the monastery of San Francesco. Located here were the cells of San Bernardino, the patron saint of heart disease, compulsive gambling and communication. Must explain the quality of this post. I went through it, got the same old silenzio routine, and we descended back down.

Back at the bus stop, there was an impressive crowd around the signpost. The people were milling around, attempting to look at it and sit down. The two of us just decided to sit down and wait. After a little while, I walked up and looked at the sign. The bus wouldn’t come for the next three hours. I then translated that message for the confused folks around me.

Now, why would buses simply be canceled for a few hours on a weekend? My first thought was that there was a strike, because it’s Italy, and striking is the second biggest national sport behind soccer. It turns out, I wasn’t too far off, because it was for a different sort of sport: people going up hills. A half hour later, the main thoroughfare of Fiesole was a stream of humanity, people on bicycles, young folks climbing up the hill by taking huge strides, older folks jogging gingerly, others trying to do that power walk where your ass goes 180 degrees each time you take a step. They were accompanied by cars and motorcycles covering the event for some Rai sports channel buried deep in the purgatory of satellite coverage. After the first hour, though, it got kind of depressing. The first group were people that were succeeding, overcoming this obstacle, but the rest were just getting eaten alive. They were limping up the hill, and we were just wondering why they weren’t sitting down right now. More power to them, but that was miserable looking.

After a drink, and picking out what cloud shapes looked like, the faucet finally shut off, and were able to catch our ride back into Florence. That would be the last time that we would come back into Florence.

31

Jul

Return to Perugia

In the intervening years since I left Perugia, it had taken on a mythological quality for me. After all, it was a place where I had many firsts. It was the first place I had ever had a glass of wine that I enjoyed. It was the first place where I actually got into a dance club without paying the cover (still the only place, actually). It was the first place where I fought bats and fireflies from invading my bedroom. Okay, that last one was a lie.

I’m sure I’ve irritated plenty of friends with stories that begin “Well, in Perugia…”

"Yes, we’ve heard that one, Rob."

"What about the time…?"

"Yeah, that one too."

Just about every Perugia story I have has probably been exhausted at least five times over. When so much happens and changes in such a short amount of time in a place, it’s understandable for that place to take on the magnitude of your own personal state at the time.

When we booked everything to go Florence, I knew Perugia had to be on the list. There was the doubt, though. It’s like walking around Oaks Park today. What once was wondrous is now just chipped paint.

I kept my thoughts of going to Perugia on the backburner during the first week we were in Florence, but it got the best of me. We were so close. We had to go. One morning, I decided that we had to go that weekend. And beyond that, a day trip wouldn’t be enough. We had to get a room, as well. Julia went along with the idea with minimal convincing.

Giddiness can’t even begin to describe the feeling I had once we were on the train. Each stop looked more and more familiar, town names such as Terontola, Passignano, and Arrezzo. “Here was the spot where Chris and I wandered off into a wedding party, here’s the spot where I took a ferry onto an island with an abandoned monastery owned by a crazy old lady.” Then, we came through the suburban sprawl. Perugia that was the first sign of Perugia’s growth that I had seen. Tall apartment buildings and modern malls ringed the outside of Perugia. It could have been southern California just as easy as Italy. Still, I saw that hill in the distance. We would be there soon.

The train station, fortunately, hadn’t changed. We came out, and I honestly had no clue where to go. Previously, to get into the center of Perugia from the train station, you’d have to take a winding bus ride up the hill that would last for about half an hour, and was a guaranteed recipe for carsickness. The guidebook suggested something else: the Minimetro. Yes, Perugia got its own metro system in the last six years. The Minimetro station wouldn’t have been out of place in the Netherlands or Japan. Just glass and steel, pure minimalist modernity. Not too Italian. Then I saw the Minimetro. That’s where they put the charm. Basically, the Minimetro is an extra-long roller coaster. It’s a series of red Tic-Tac-shaped cars that hold about ten people that come every minute. Chances are, you’re getting your own private car to yourself on the way up. My grin was permanent the whole way up.

The Minimetro let us off on a grassy terrace just below Corso Vanucci, the main stretch of Perugia. When we stepped into the sun, nothing had changed. We could see for leagues. I looked at the foot of the terrace and saw the Universta per Stranieri annex that I had hiked to every morning, and instantly knew where I was. Before, it was stairs, escalators, and elevators that got me up there. We went through an alleyway, and finally came into the city itself.

It was perfect.

More than anywhere I’ve been in the country, Perugia is the Italian ideal that you always imagine when you think of the country. All cobblestone streets, steep hills, sun hitting granite and marble in the morning and afternoon in striking angles, and streets jammed with families, dapper old men, dolled-up old ladies, and stylish young people on mopeds. It wasn’t like going back to something you loved as a kid; it was like coming home.

Julia, who had heard all of my stories plenty of times, was stunned at the city. My words and stories could not have prepared her for it. After the constant noise of Florence and the waves of tourists in Pisa and Lucca, Perugia was an oasis. Getting back on those cobblestones was like a massage. The stress just fell off.

Once there, we took in all the sights I could think of. We looked over the valley at Assisi from just outside my old apartment. “This is what you saw every morning?” Julia asked, agape. We went to the old Roman temple, which still was the very essence of serenity, a cool shelter on a warm day. Then we came through park just on the outside of the walls. I remembered coming to La Piroga down here, a place that became infamous a few years after I had left due to the international incident.

Two places looked as they had been left as soon I was gone. The amphitheater where we used to catch movies during the summer was run down, as the concession stand had been wrecked, and looked to had been the home to various sorts of vagrants and wildlife. At the foot of the hill, our study abroad hangout Contrappunto was chained and overgrown with weeds. I could even recognize the banner that was up when I was there before. It looked like something from one of those The World After Us shows.

Then, of course, there was pizza. We hit Pizzeria Etrusca, which before had claimed my favorite piece of fast food ever: the cuscino. A pocket of prosciutto, sausage, and mozzerella, it had loomed over every piece of street food I had after. Like with the city, I felt like it probably was greater in memory than it was in reality. Like with the city, I was proven wrong. It still is the greatest street food in the world.

The rest of the day consisted of food and drink, going to bars I had been on dates to and bars I had been banned from. We got an underwhelming multicourse meal at a place that had been an old favorite. Then, we just walked up and down Vanucci. The people were shoulder to shoulder. The reverberating voices bouncing off the buildings sounded like a river. What was the occasion? It was Saturday. We went to Piazza Italia, looked out over the lights in the valley, and had a long kiss.

The great cities of the world grow with you. You get older, you learn new things, you have new experiences, and you become different. Ideally, so does a city. That’s what Perugia does. Perugia grew with me, and continues to grow.

26

Jul

Following the Hogs Around Pisa and Lucca

2005: Pisa was a stopoff point on our trip from Perugia to Nice. During a weeklong break between portions of our program in Perugia, four of us decided to train up to France. Having shared a nice coffee earlier in the day with my mom in Florence, our journey continued towards Nice, with a layover in Pisa. It couldn’t have been longer than half an hour. (I tried to confirm this in my Livejournal from back then, but alas, I chose not to write about this trip. Why, I do not know. Yes, I had Livejournal. And yes, there still are some pretty funny bits.) While Caitlin and I chose to hang back at the station, Chris and Kathryne made a run for the tower. 20 minutes passed, 25 minutes passed. Caitlin and I decided that, if necessary, we’d continue on without them. As the train came in and boarding commenced, Chris and Kathryne arrived, sweaty and out of breath. “Was it worth it?” I asked. I forget their response.

2011: Julia and I went on a Tuscan circuit of Pisa and Lucca during our first weekend in the country. Pisa is an easy reach by train from Florence, with lines running every half hour, and rides taking only an hour. The front of the Pisa train station is a roundabout ringed with palm trees with a fountain in the center. We headed toward where we imagined the tower would be. The flow of tourists was our guide. If there were folks with fanny packs going to or from a certain direction, we were certain we were on the right course. The large piazza we passed on the way was run down and under construction, with the storefronts surrounding it looking no better. It was as if Pisa still hadn’t gotten around to fixing the damage done by World War II. When we got to the river, our path was blocked by a caravan of motorcycles. These hog enthusiasts blocked our path for more than five minutes as they made their way around the city. They were weekend warriors mostly, with flags hanging off the back of their bikes, and cuts representing random spots all over Tuscany. (The term “cut” I had only recently learned from a marathon catchup session on Sons of Anarchy.) Once the last of the leather-clad had made their way, we continued with the flow of tourists.

The tower is found in grassy campo, a field that also features a duomo and a baptistery. The only words that can truly describe it are profanity. Seeing it, my reaction was varying degrees of this: “What the fuck? Are they fucking kidding me? They cannot be fucking serious. How the fuck? Wait, what the fuck? Do you see this fucking thing? How is it…fuck!” I don’t like to resort to profanity too much in my writing, but that’s the only way to describe being near this thing. It’s a fucking natural wonder. (I can’t help myself.) Your world gets shattered looking at it. Every bit of natural law and reason you thought you knew is dashed at the sight of it. How, why, what, huh? It’s a tower, but it’s fucking leaning! It’s not even a little bit, either. You expect that thing to come down on some poor family at any moment. How does this thing exist? Because the thing was giving me an existential crisis, we headed back to the train, careful to avoid ruining the pictures of too many posing folks on the way.

Our next stop was Lucca, a place that was repeatedly named as a gem of the region by our guidebook. Considering that the train cost less than three euro to get there, how would we not go? The station at Lucca is a five minute walk from the medieval city itself. To get in, you follow a pathway through what used to be a moat up to the city’s walls. There, the winding path climbs up the wall, through a mildew and urine-smelling corridor that’s been plastered with graffiti. Then, at the top, you get a view of the city in all its medieval glory. It truly has been well preserved. The streets of Lucca are empty save for a few main thoroughfares, and the city offers ample opportunities to get lost. We had no real spots on our itinerary, so that’s exactly what we did. At the bookstore on Lucca’s main stretch, I was tempted to buy an Italian version of the first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire, until I remembered that the thing weighed ten pounds. Julia instead got a copy of Pinocchio to study. We basked in the sun at Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, and decided on hitting Puccini’s house and climbing Torre Guingi. The Puccini house was free, and featured a few playbills and costumes from his operas, along with a couple other videos as well. As far as free museums go, it was way more absorbing than it had any right being. Torre Guingi also defied expectations as its top housed a small garden with grass and a few trees. It would have been a fine place to relax had sudden wind gusts not constantly threatened to blow me off the top of it. We got a pic, and quickly descended. On the way back out, we grabbed a drink in a busy piazza, and hit dinner at a spot located in the wall itself. Julia enjoyed what was probably her favorite pasta in Italy, and I startled myself, half tipsy, as I walked over a glass floor suspended over an ancient well. There are certain things that you don’t want to walk over, and a bottomless well is certainly one of them. We paid our bills, and strolled back to the station. A few miscues with the automatic ticket machine later, we were on the train, and headed back to Florence.

Both were cities of fulfilled expectations. I was told that Pisa was a terrible place save for the tower, and it pretty much was that, except the tower was fucking unreal, taunting me with its crimes against science, gravity, and God. Lucca was a calm change of pace, and a great spot to recharge. Our next weekend trip had a lot more expectations riding on it, though: Perugia.

24

Jul

La Vita Italiana

Life over the course of the program was devoted almost entirely to the program. Living there wasn’t a vacation where we went out to Florence’s hottest bars and rubbed elbows with the cast of the Jersey Shore. In fact, out of our entire program, Julia and I were the only ones to not catch a glimpse of Snooki’s poof or a whiff of Ronnie’s vodka-tinged BO. (On a side note, others in the program witnessed the cast taking over small grocery stores or strolling through the streets with a retinue of paparazzi and production assistants in their wake. The Situation even lent an umbrella to one of them during a freak rainstorm.) We were a good half hour away from the city’s center. Instead, we had something closer to what it was to live and work in Florence.

In the mornings, we grabbed warm chocolate or custard croissants from a cafe just two minutes away from us, and we spent the whole of the day in class either learning, teaching, or lesson planning. After, we would stop by the grocery store, grab a bottle of red and some pasta, and head home and make dinner.

In more stressful times, such as the ones where we had a lesson the next day, and we had yet to find a text, pizza was on the menu. For only five euros, we got wood-fired pizzas to go, loaded with fresh mozzarella, roasted green and red peppers, and thick cut salami. The treat would be gelato from Medici, which always had a line of eager Italians desperate for a sugar hit until closing. We never quite deciphered when that closing time was. Some weekends, when we were walking back at one in the morning, there were still customers dutifully licking their pistachio cones in front of the store.

Normally, when you walk, it’s a passive activity. You’re moving forward, but your mind can wander, think about what you’re having for dinner, what you’re doing over the weekend. When you see someone coming your way, you move out of the way, and your fellow daydreamer coming your way will do the same. It’s a silent pact between pedestrians. That agreement didn’t exist in Florence. My first week there was spent twisting and sidestepping and pirouetting around the Florentine pedestrians as they just passed me by stonefaced. The agreement wasn’t honored. They weren’t going to make my passing easy. They saw me get out of the way, and they just continued forward. To walk in Florence, you need to have a game face. After spending a week clipping railings and almost falling into traffic, I finally learned that. I changed my walk accordingly. My shoulders became square and my chest jutted forward. I made myself as big and imposing as possible. My face changed from agape awe of what I was seeing to a peeved hundred-yard stare. Think Marlo Stanfield. I looked like I was in the middle of something important at all times. No eye contact, and certainly no cues as to whether you will move. Walking in Florence is a series of games of chicken, constantly occurring every step. Before, I was in the game, and I didn’t even know it. After, people kept a wide berth. It was something that I could just turn on and off, and the sidewalks would clear. I would do it for fun, just to test out if it was real. Half the way, I would walk Portland style, and half I’d walk Florence style. As soon as that stare went out, they got out of my way. I was a master.

Until one weekend after the program was over. Julia and I were going near the Piazza della Signoria (the area where you find the Uffizi and a collection of statues lining the square). I had my face on, and tourists and Italians alike were scurrying aside. On a thin sidewalk, I met my match. I had the face on, they had the face on. We approached each other confidently, with large strides and an arrogant glare. As we moved closer, it occurred to me: I was going to run this five-foot-tall old lady over. I pinned my back against the wall with my hands spread out at my sides, as if I was scaling the side of a cliff in an Indiana Jones movie. She glided by with a hint of a smirk. Julia cracked up. I thought I had the game mastered, and it turns out I was just another also-ran. Sure I could make most people get out of my way, but when I came up against a true master, a seventy year old woman with a serious hat, I fled like a cockroach, just like all the others.

Yep, for much of that month, life was sleep, school, dinner, then sleep again. Maybe we’d watch an episode of Doctor Who or Game of Thrones. Still, when the tomatoes were so flavorful that you could bite into them like they were apples, I couldn’t have wished for more.

07

Jul

Buzzing Noises

After a too-long day spent traveling, Julia and I finally turned the lights off at about 9. Some much-needed rest on our double-cratered bed was finally on its way.

Then, the noise. A perfect example of the Doppler effect.

"zzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz"

"zzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz"

"zzzZZZZzz"

"zzzzZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz"

"zzzZZZZZZzzzzzzz"

These weren’t sounds coming from the piazzabout. These were coming from the apparent wildlife habitat that was our bedroom. They were mosquitoes divebombing us and buzzing in our ears.

Previously, my experience with mosquitoes was one where they really didn’t exist. I knew that they sucked blood, but I honestly can’t recall a time where I caught them doing so, instead, just a memory of a few bumps on my ankles during the summer that got increasingly unbearable when I put socks on. Just a sign that summer is coming on, that’s all. They certainly didn’t come out when I was awake, and they never came near my face.

In Florence, mosquitoes are emboldened by generations of feasting on historical legends such as Dante and Leonardo da Vinci. I turned back on the lamp, and I saw ten different mosquitoes dotting our high white ceilings. They were mocking me, knowing that they were entirely out of reach. On the wall behind us, there were an additional four, just waiting for the buffet. I successfully used my copy of American Pastoral to down two of them.

The damage was done, though. Even when they weren’t buzzing me, I thought they were about to buzz me, and I stayed on edge in anticipation. That’s no way to try and fall asleep. Every moped that went by could have been a mosquito trying to infect me with dengue fever.

Throughout this, Julia was confused by my behavior, as I was getting buzzed every two minutes, she might have heard one every half hour or so. My behavior looked to be that of a crazy person. I took off and spent the night doing research on audio mosquito repellents on my cell phone.

While separated, Julia got the full brunt of what I was experiencing. Without my sweet, sweet blood to distract them, the mosquitoes went full bore after Julia. In the kitchen, I managed to draw a few toward me. After much research, I finally found an anti-mosquito app for my phone and activated it. The sound was the ringing in your ears after standing too close to the speakers at a punk show. “This has to work,” I thought. A mosquito nonchalantly climbed over the phone’s speaker.

Eventually, day broke and total exhaustion set in and we slept for four hours. When I woke up, I had more than 25 bites covering my body.

Over the rest of our time in Florence, dealing with mosquitoes was an ongoing battle. We bought fumagatory devices, and we refused to open the windows, no matter what the temperature. We became gifted assassins, with me able to clap, slap, spray, and catch mosquitoes with little effort. At night, we bathed in Off! and woke up smelling like rusty cans. It took a lot of work, and almost a week, but we beat mosquitoes. I couldn’t hear the buzzing.

06

Jul

The graffiti written outside our window near our piazzabout.

The graffiti written outside our window near our piazzabout.

Into Italy

So, the grand experiment mostly ended with a Blazers recap. I could have just done that on my old blog. Still, months later, there’s no reason to give excuses. Show don’t tell, and that sort of deal.

The trip out of Denver to Rome started easily enough. One hitch was my idea to jam one bag in another bag, leading me to carrying around roughly 40 pounds in carry-on baggage. I really could have thought that one through. The plane ride was uneventful, and we happily landed in Chicago.

There, I looked for the new Esquire at the newsstand.

"Aww, Jeff Bridges, that’s my man! Did you see True Grit?"

"Yeah, he and Matt Damon were great."

"Man, they don’t make no real westerns like that anymore. Like Clint Eastwood, he’s the greatest ever. If he would just come back one more time, I could die happy."

"Sure, he was pretty great" (I’ve barely seen The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.)

"I just remember spending Saturdays with my grandma, watching Clint do his thing. He was the absolute king."

"Yeah. Well, I think my plane boards soon." (I really know nothing about Clint, I never even saw the "Get off my lawn" movie.)

"Aww, too bad, I could talk to you all day. Have a great trip!"

Chicago: Friendliest Place on Earth.

After only an hour on the plane, the in-flight entertainment cut out. The atmosphere on a long-haul flight across an ocean is a tenuous truce. As long as we’re numbed by a showing of Rango, everything goes smoothly. Once that leaves, that tension gets ratcheted up. It’s like in school, and you had a kid tapping his pencil next to you. No biggy when you’re engaged in the class. When you’re trying to read, thoughts turn to bodily harm surprisingly fast. Without the entertainment, the cornucopia of smells, that strange cocktail of sterilized piss and B.O. that’s been recycled 200 times that makes up a cabin suddenly is noticeable. Without that entertainment, you start judging. How dare that lady ask us to tell her how her phone works, just because we’re under 40. Then sleeping becomes impossible, as a couple middle-aged Southern tourists take the opportunity to guzzle Bud Lights like frat boys throughout the night. All told, I picked up an hour of sleep, and Julia close to four. She breathed fire on me when I woke her up. Regardless, we finally landed in Rome.

I wanted to pull off my best Mastroianni La dolce vita look as I exited the plane onto the tarmac, but I probably looked more like Nicolas Cage in any movie ever. Haggard, half-bearded, weary. We grabbed our stuff, and headed into Rome proper.

At the train leaving Fiumicino, I tried to get some change. I handed the clerk a wad of fourteen dollars. She responded, “That will get you two euros.” Onward I went.

Before we even arrived at Termini, I was already sticking to every surface I touched, and was covered in salt, from a day spent sweating and stewing in it. Our original plan was to leave our bags there, and take off and explore the city. Instead, we kept guard for more than four hours as we waited to take our next four hour train up to Florence. Julia’s first real Italian lesson turned out to be trying to memorize the commercial they played over the loudspeaker every three minutes.

When the train was ready for departure, we had no concept what comfort was anymore. Butts were numb from sitting on ledges and bags, and our final phase was underway. We think people sat near us, but honestly, there’s no way to be sure. We rushed to a cab when we arrived in Florence, and were spirited to our new home, at 8 Piazza Viesseux.

Piazza Viesseux is not the Italian piazza that you typically think of. It’s not a place where the neighborhood comes to gather, and buskers play for change. It’s mostly a glorified roundabout, with a gravel center that’s used as a parking lot after the sun goes down.

The landlady is a tiny Italian lady with dyed red hair, and a zeal for trying to use English. She started with English, but toward the end, once she learned I spoke Italian, she quickly switched to the mother tongue. She showed us through the kitchen, a long row consisting of a dining table for three and a few counters, ending in a small balcony, and our bedroom, a wide room featuring two desks and two massive windows overlooking the piazza/roundabout (from here known as the piazzabout). During the tour, she made sure to warn us of the mosquitoes.

"Yeah," we said to each other. "The mosquitoes. We’ll keep an eye out."

The first rule of Florence is to never be flippant about mosquitoes.

30

Apr

Portland is one of the few progressive cities in the United States, a place where hippies, vegans, and communist lesbians aren’t at risk of being shot by Republicans with barbecues in their backyards.
Translation from a review of Portlandia in Rolling Stone.

24

Apr

Roy in Denver

"This is going to get awkward," I said to the bartender. I threw my jacket over the back of my chair, and parked myself at the bar. I was ready to watch the Blazers in Denver.

A lot of planning went into this. I questioned Julia’s sister and her brother-in-law on the most ideal places to watch sports in the area. The Exchange is what they settled on. Then I scouted it out on Google Maps to see if I needed to use my newly acquired biking skill to get there (sadly, I didn’t). Then, I had to awkwardly call and ask, “Are you showing the Blazers today?”

"The whats?" he responded.

"Portland Blazers playoffs," I said.

"Guess so." It was a date.

The Exchange is as authentic as an Irish pub can be, considering the location. Westminster is a half hour outside of Denver, so I wasn’t expecting stone inlays or folks slicing up bars of soap. It is a tandem pub/coffeeshop, obviously built in the last decade, but hit the marks it is supposed to hit. There wasn’t an overabundance of goofy Guinness crap on the walls, and there was nary a piece of sports memorabilia in sight, save for a ticket to a Colorado Rapids game. The bartender had no idea why it was there. Still, you must judge a pub by its beers, and it had all the UK hits you should expect, with a few more I hadn’t heard of. I went with the Harp, as it was cheapest, natch.

"You’re the Blazer guy," he said. I sheepishly grinned. Never have I felt so alone while going out. Hit a bar or coffeeshop with a book and nestle in a corner, you’re erudite. Sit down in a near-empty sports bar on a Saturday afternoon to root for an out-of-town team, you look like an imbecile. Especially when the TV is on mute.

I nervously made small talk along the lines of “How ‘bout those Rockies” as I waited for the game to start. Another patron started talking about how the umpire squeezed the strike zone the night before. I was already out of my element. Defeated, I turned my attention to the closing moments of the Bulls-Pacers game.

Coming in from out of town to sit alone in a bar to watch a game is one thing. It’s quite another to have the team you’re watching struggle historically. After a quarter, the score was 16-11, Mavericks. “Blazers are on pace to score 44, if they’re lucky,” joked the bartender. I laughed while thinking, You are embarrassing me, why are you doing this, LaMarcus? I took a hearty swig of Harp and tried to enjoy the mile-high buzz.

The second was more of the same. Me sitting alone, making various hoots, grunts, and c’mons as the Blazers stumbled toward the half. Only this time, the bar was filling up. It’s one thing for me to be alone and awkwardly cheering with the bartender watching; its his job to accommodate the loners, it’s another to do it while boxed in on either side with large parties. They were eying me like I was the guy on the train that had mismatched Crocs and smelled heavily of asparagus.

I choked down some Blarney Stones (what they call tater tots) to ease my buzz during halftime, hoping that Julia would show up and save me from my own craziness. She didn’t show until midway through the third, when things were at their worst. At this point, I was sending angry texts to my friends and family at the game, blaming them for what was happening. “Your crappy cheering causes Peja
Stojacovic to hit threes every time down the floor.”

Julia showing up did double duty. I no longer looked crazy, and I had someone knowledgeable to talk to. We joked about the ineptness throughout the quarter, with Julia remarking that the team had an outside shot after Roy hit his up-down-out-in three to finish the quarter, I was cynical.

Then it happened. No need describing it as you’ve seen it everywhere (and most beautifully here). Each shot that went in had me saying “Maybe if the margin was this much with this much time left, we could have a shot.” Each time, the Blazers hit the benchmarks. Once within ten, I started openly yelling at the television, startling other customers and embarrassing Julia. When the four point play happened, I expected the bar to cheer with me, as if they were the USSR in Rocky IV, and Roy was the scrappy Italian Stallion. They didn’t. Then there was rapture. I screamed once more, realized nobody wanted me there, set down a 20, and walked back.

Still overcome with giddiness, I celebrated in the most Portland fashion I could think of: I had celebratory bike ride as rabbits and prarie dogs dashed alongside me. Nothing is ever awkward when the Blazers win.

23

Apr

Robert freaks out nervously in a Denver pub as Brandon Roy makes a four point play to tie the greatest game ever played. Tomorrow, a textual description.

Robert freaks out nervously in a Denver pub as Brandon Roy makes a four point play to tie the greatest game ever played. Tomorrow, a textual description.