priorities: a vingnette


memorial stadium at UNL

(A reprise from the wayback, because it’s game day for the U of N, Lincoln)

Okay, okay; guilty as charged:  I admit that I’m an unrepentant fan of college football, but only when my alma mater plays.  My team’s the Big Red; the Cornhuskers; the University of Nebraska team, in case you need it spelled out further.  I never watch professional football; it seems pretty troglodytic as well as corrupt to me, in fact.  But oh; when those scarlet-and-cream Cornshuckers take the field, my heart soars, and I hear the school song blaring, and the crowds roaring, and the stadium full of red-clad fans totally pumped, and just primed to do the wave!  We Nebraskans (and once-Nebraskans) love our team inordinately, and even occasionally go so far as to elect former coaches to the US Congress.  Visitors cannot be faulted for not knowing whether Tom Osborne is a major or minor deity to Nebraskans.

Oh, the thrill of Homecoming, and the giant red mum corsages the co-eds pin onto their woolen coats, as their high heels clicked along the sidewalks, the longed-for cooler brisk fall air redolent with the spicy scent of the corn-harvesting wafting about the campus.  I can so easily imagine myself back there again in the easy camaraderie of the masses of fans heading toward the stadium, thousands upon thousands of Nebraskans with a single goal, streaming toward the stadium.  For us, this wasn’t just college football, it was the raison d’être of an entire state!  ‘There is no place like Nebraska…where the girls are the fairest, the boys are the squarest’… I’d walk within the throng, holding hands with my four-foot eleven-inch girlfriend as we headed toward sun-drenched stadium nirvana.

What could be more innocently thrilling, more invigorating, than a home game with our historical rivals, Oklahoma?  For decades we’d played the Sooners, OU’s team.  Even those of us who never otherwise bet on anything would put some wager on the home team.  It was a matter of pride and confidence in our boys.  All these years later, I still get jazzed when we play Oklahoma.  I’ll often call my father in Lincoln, and my son wherever he is at the time, prior to kickoff, and again during half-time to either commiserate or celebrate…maybe even when the game’s over; sometimes they’ll call me.  It’s great.

Sometimes I’ll even remember to put on my Grandfather’s ugly red Cornhusker tie while I watch, if my wife remembers to dig it up for me.  She loathes football, and usually reads in the bedroom room during the game, so she brings me the tie in the way of some pointed ribbing.  She prides herself on not even knowing the rules, and breaks up when the announcers talk about tight ends, of which position she was made aware by the John Lithgow character in The Hotel New Hampshire.   When she can tell that I’m yelling bad things at the television, she’ll crack the door, and pretend to need assurance that I won’t beat her if Nebraska loses.  She thinks she’s pretty flipping funny.

My mom had died six months ago.  She’d had Alzheimer’s, and had finally needed to go and live in a nursing home.  She was ninety, and in relatively good health otherwise, and might have lived a lot longer, but knowing less and less about the world around her.  Once an out-of-control infection almost killed her, but she rebounded from that, even though she was approaching late-stage dementia.  I prayed for her to die; life was getting increasing less fun for her.  One night, she sat up in bed, spoke a few words, and died.  She did it right, bless her heart; bye, mom; journey well.

My dad had spent the last year adjusting to her eventual departure from his world in that difficult and terrible process that some have called the long goodbye.  He wants to stay in their house, and pays no attention to entreaties from my sister to move to an apartment or retirement home near her; damn, he’s a stubborn cuss.  A few months ago my sister brought him to Colorado, and she and I shuttled him from one end of the state to the other so he could visit me and my wife and his other relatives around the state.  He’s become something of a different person through all this; he even decided he liked my wife after decades of not, sometime during his stay.  Weird.  Now he can’t say enough nice things about her, and even laughs at her jokes; the first sign of a sense of humor I can recall…  He doesn’t even throw a fit when she calls him Old Man, though nobody else can get away with it.  She finally asked him, “If ya ain’t old when you’re ninety-two, when the hell are you?”  Maybe he finally thought, “Oh.  Right.”  But in any event, he laughed; another remarkable event.

When my sister finally delivered him back home to Nebraska, we all thought he’d been cured of his sorties out into the world.  Boy, were we wrong.  My brother and his wife invited him to California for a visit to some millionaire’s house they were house-sitting.  Complex travel plans were arranged, and off he went again, after a mere few weeks at home.  He gallivanted around for a couple weeks on the coast, after which my sister and my dad’s infernal poodle picked him up at the airport in Denver.  He was exhausted, and eager to get home.  They spent the night in a small city not far from Denver so he could see his sister one more (maybe last) time, and then head back to Lincoln the next morning.

It was Game Day.  And by that I mean the day the Cornhuskers played Oklahoma.  I’d agreed to keep them abreast of the game by phone until they could get far enough east to pick up a radio station carrying the game.  We spoke by cell multiple times; it was a close game, and just great.  By half-time, Nebraska was a mere three points ahead.  But our last call brought news of a real, as they say, game-changer. 

 My sister had just gotten a call from our aunt, our mother’s sister: her husband, also in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, plus other complications, had experienced some crisis, and his life was ebbing fast.  He was in a coma, with no hope of waking without massive brain damage.  She asked them to come to them in western Nebraska, as she needed their help.

The ‘help’ was helping her decide whether or not to pull the plug on my uncle’s life.  Soon; as in: immediately.  I pictured where they were on that long, straight highway heading east on the Great Plains and the yearned-for home for dad; now a detour north was necessary.  I cringed at this new burden that had just been laid on my dad’s fragile and aged shoulders.  My God.

Whoa; we kicked it around for a bit.  My dad was voting to say “no” to the plug-pulling, even though he didn’t seem to have enough information to make an informed decision, but was additionally quite adept at meting out guilt and shame, which Auntie did not need.  I thought about it all for a bit, then talked it over with my wife.  We came up with some ideas he might want to consider, mainly about the advisability of being more of a sounding board for Auntie, asking questions and allowing her to decide.  We figured she should have all the votes, really; he’d been her husband for sixty years, after all.  His role should just be a supportive one.

The game resumed, and was getting really competitive.  Damn; I bit the bullet and phoned, knowing they were getting closer and closer to Gering and Auntie.  I spoke to my sister briefly about my thoughts, thinking that she might remember them better than my dad would later on, and might be able to use a few hints.  She then handed her cell to my dad; I tried to keep my foot from tapping with impatience.  They weren’t far from the turnoff to the hospital; I launched into my spiel, acknowledging to him that he was walking into a really fraught situation, and letting him know I’d be with him in spirit, offering my free advice.  I didn’t get too far before he interrupted me.

“Mmm-hmmm…thanks, son; what’s the score now?  How are we doing?”  I told him that Nebraska had just scored, and let him know the score…and eventually said goodbye…to a dead phone; the old man had…fucking hung up.

Gradually I became aware that my head slowly shaking back in forth in  utter amazement,  having forgotten that a lot of Big Red fans have certain priorities hard-wired into their goddam DNA. In a tick or two, I heard my wife, closeted in our bedroom, but obviously within earshot, burst into peals of laughter that turned into choking and snorting guffaws which finally leveled off into occasional chortles and chuckles as she realized exactly what had gone down.

Nebraskans just fucking kill her.  Small wonder.

22 responses to “priorities: a vingnette

  1. I remember this from before. Thanks for bringing it around again. This was not Game Day. Oklahoma took Kansas State and Nebraska beat Indiana.

    And we are at the age of frequent long good-byes, aren’t we. Between the older generation and my own there are more than a few that have walked on.

    • stop ruining the story dammit! more later. shomer shabbos.

      • er…are you the observant jew, jason? and ruin…how, mister jester?

        • knowing it was indiana instead of the sooners just ruined it for me completely. i feel worse than the time Oprah betrayed me with that fake drug addict autobio. maybe mr. w.d. can do a maudlin confession for all us butthurt fans?

          well, talking about football is easier than talking about mortality. if i cheer madly w/my fellow Cornshuckers, maybe i won’t go the way of the dinosaur?

          • bloody hell, i love your stand-up comedy, amigo! thd will prolly hang himself for revealing The Big Secret, though. and of course mr wd would be willin’ to teach ya the shool song, if that would help. and how in the world did ya remember the james frey ‘epic Oprah scandal’? the second one of course was that in her african girls’ school, it turned out that the teachers were um…er…sexually abusing the gurls. sorry oprah. but to her credit, forgive her cuz when she gives the audience a new car, they only hafta pay the new car taxes on em, eh?

            and thanks for the airplane clips. yanno, we have a few of those jewish baseball players’ cards. sid greenburg?

            and thanks for pretendin’ to believe that mr. wd wrote the piece. ;-)

            • somewhere b/n the cornshuckers and the fake drug addict oprah recovery best seller story (i know i started this whole meme but whatever!!! after oprah recants, is it no longer a best seller??? i mean wth????) it just ruined it for me!!!!!!

              did mr w.d. write the piece???? i have both autobots & decepticons & micheal bay postin’ for me!!!!

              • you know i wrote it. O made a former (?) friend of mine’s book an O pick. i’d made the mistake of asking her if it worried her that it was O-worthy, arrrg. but then it was me into a star-studded film. janet read some of my stories and vignettes, offered a few tips, and advised me to send them to O. thing is, whatever one sends her (or her minions) to read or not read: becomes her property. adorable, no?

                gotta go, seems like fambly stuff breaks at night, emails, phone calls, texts….

        • 3000 years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Kofax…

          “Do you have anything light to read?” -“yeah, how about this leaflet, famous jewish sports legends?”

    • well, yes, not *that game day* six years ago. and the cornshuckers are now in the Big 10!!! sooners still in the Big 12!! and yes, the huskers beat indiana, but mr. wd said that they played like shite. ;-)

      yes, more long goodbyes, including auntie J, who’s in the throes of alz now, living in the same assisted living facility as the Old Man, who’s now 98, and just won’t give up the ship. he, thus we, live from crisis to crisis, with crap staff care and a srsly crap personal physician. he goes in and out of dementia, but finally learned to kinda/sorta use the teevee remote again. (my jest was that all along he’d been trying to use the ‘missing’ garage door opener to the storage unit his daughter rented).

      mr. wd does call him on game days to make sure someone helps him turn the teevee on and dial up the right channel; that it yesterday’s game was being broadcast on abc (not cable) threw him for a loop, i’ll say that. but he found in in time, bless his heart.

      oddly, neither mr. wd nor i can remember what happened to uncle B, but my guess is that he’d quietly gone into that goodnight, till in a deep coma.

      god’s blood, i detest football, lol. thanks for reading it again; in a way, some of it’s a universal story, including even the team nationalistic jingoism. but: Go Big Red! no chance for players to protest the anthem, apparently. but during an east carolina U game last week, iirc, a lotta band members refused to play the damned song, and others dropped a knew. from the photos, they didn’t appear to be all blacks, either.

      • Yes, East Carolina has been amazing on taking a knee. And UNC Charlotte after the CMPD shot a guy in the back has become pretty political as well. And major papers are dumping McCrory and Burr. The first because of Hate Bill 2. The second because of lackluster performance as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. A quality attorney general, Roy Cooper, is opposing McCrory. And a former ACLU Executive Director Deborah Ross is opposing Burr. Both good steps forward. The Koch Brothers PACs (Art Pope is affiliated with one of them) are trying to use the Willie Horton strategy to smear both Cooper and Ross on actually applying constitutional limits to government conduct of law enforcement. What is to watch here is the composition of the legislature.

        • i wish you all well, then. the local cortez urinal paper endorsed a glitzy dem woman, gail someone, from pitkin county or some posh area, over the pin-headed tea-man scott mcginnis. would have loved to be a fly on the wall when he saw it.

          from today:

  2. oh lord, having to endure a nice, liberal, schmiberal conversation about all the wonderful things kids learn from sports. what didn’t come up in the “sports as microcosm of society” blather? the manufacture of scarcity by the guys in the sky boxes to produce competition among the plebs on the field. the arbitrariness of social rules and conventions. the colossal waste (Vegas is investing $500 million in a new sports complex to attract a pro team. boy, sure hope they don’t run out of water first.) (i know, kids sports can be different, but this conversation was during a pro football game. and plenty of dads & coaches project onto their 10 year old future Serena Williamses.)

    part of the purpose of the gladiator games in Rome was to keep the people continually accustomed to gigantic amounts of bloodshed. they participated, via spectacle, in the military violence that ruled their society.
    sports aren’t exactly like that in our society, but they do serve to reinforce the capitalist horseshit mythology crammed down everyone’s throat night & day.

    • wolf nipple chips; OMG, that was great and i’d never seen it. thanks. yeah, bloodshed, pecking order, closed head injuries, and yanno…john elway sorts, ‘buy yer car from the man who is a star!’.

      w/ college football, they staff every position six deep, both offensive and defensive teams. no, no soccer: the donors to the U love football! glory days! pfffft. same in our local high schools.

      really something for a city to use tax money to build a stadium to line private pockets, eh? me, i’d rather see rollerball be the national sport: to the death!

      • “build us a stadium or we’ll take our team elsewhere.” ahhh, rollerball.

        anyway, not quite as good as Holy Grail, imho, but a classic. “crucifixion is the best thing the Romans ever did for this country. Nail them up, i say! Nail some sense into them!”

        oh yeah, hyper-exploitation of labor in sports. pay disparity, etc., etc. wow. it really is a microcosm of society!

  3. i read this book, Delillo’s “End Zone”, a long time ago and having grown up watching/playing football and w/a bit of duck & cover under Reagan, at the time, i thought it was great: this is a wonderful review (jeez, NYT, what the hell happened?) but the main point, not really highlighted in the review, is the interchangeability of the dry, abstract jargonese of football play-calling and the jargon of warfare, esp. the Rand corporate bullshit PR speak of “winning” nuclear war.
    “And Gary himself finds his only sustenance in the terminologies of football and nuclear holocaust—the languages of end zones.”

    • i’ll never see the words ‘end zone’ the same again; i promise. ;-) dayum, that was such a fun read i read it thrice, and saw more each time.

      and oy; (i’m not dejewifying) i’d missed your quip under the sunny side video, lol x 2.

      he untied the dude’s shoestring, walked off the field cuz: the munchies.

      • sweet. i just put it on the re-read bucket list.

        “of course he’s the Messiah. i should know. i’ve followed a few.”

      • i stopped by the local pub lib & whoo hoo! they had it. the 1st paragraph was apt for your “john elway, cars salesman” comment. a bit of channel surfing last night on the tube & on espn some back up QB says, “as coach says, a gunslinger’s gonna get shot…yaddah yaddah…but i’m going to be cautiously aggressive.” the espn think person thought was deep.

        made me realize that focusing on sports, the “action on the field,” allows everyone to talk in nothing but cliches. this conversation brought to you by Gerber, proud sponsors of Baby Talk.

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