The Season Also Starts

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PART I

Bobby Kohn was a champion darts player. You wouldn’t know it, even if you asked him. The crowning achievement of his life was an Ivy League degree that collected dust in a box in his parent’s basement on Long Island. Since graduating from Brown, he’d couch-surfed and freelanced in Brooklyn and Manhattan. After several months, he landed some stable advertising gig, rented a brownstone he couldn’t afford with friends in Bed-Stuy, and his credit card debt tripled in the span of six months.

And he was a Spurs fan.

I met Bobby Kohn through a mutual acquaintance, Brett. Brett was the type of person constantly complaining about migraines while inflicting them on others through his acts and omissions. At his heart, he was a good guy. He seldom followed his heart. Still, he had married well – a young trust fund lady who, post divorce, cut him a very handsome check to live on for a few years.

Last April, we all went to the East Village one Saturday morning at Brett’s suggestion. I didn’t know it was a Liverpool bar or I’d have passed. We waited forever to get seats at a table with strangers. Red Standard Chartered t-shirts filled the air. I ordered a Bloody Mary while Bobby got a Long Island iced tea and Brett asked for some weird foreign beer.

  • Tough game.
  • We’ll see.
  • Suarez has been good. Sterling too.
  • Don’t forget Henderson – playing out of his mind.
  • Yep.
  • Same with Gerrard.

My drink arrived and I kept my mouth shut. I knew that as a United fan, I was surrounded by less than friendly folks. Still, United’s title chances had gone to hell back in October. I could stand to see a good game, one where the team didn’t just run and cross and run and cross. Chelsea would probably be defensive and boring, but anything was possible. Bobby, disinterested, fiddled with his cell phone. Brett focused more on his drink than any of the TV’s.

  • So Jake, how’s work?
  • Work?
  • You know, writing.
  • Oh.
  • Any pitches or things lined up?
  • Not really.
  • Well, yeah maybe at a few spots.
  • Any new outlets?
  • Nope. My editors have been grounded as of late.
  • That’s a miracle.
  • You’re telling me.

I finished my Bloody Mary and ordered another one. Bobby and Brett conspired to order a pitch of an American pilsner. They then used said pitcher and spare cups to befriend a few of the strangers at the table. One was a mid-40′s white man with a bald head, a goatee, and those Buddy Holly glasses I get the urge to punch every time I see them. His Sturridge shirt endeared him to me, but when the conversation drifted towards Luis Suarez things went downhill from a rhetorical standpoint.

I swallowed a few argumentum ad ignorantiums and then stood up to leave. Chelsea had scored somehow and the game was abysmal.

  • Are we leaving?
  • Yeah, it’s crowded. Drinks are taking forever.
  • But the game isn’t over.
  • I heard there’s a good space to catch a game on 5th street.
  • What’s it called?
  • I don’t remember.
  • Look it up on Yelp.
  • You think it’ll be packed?
  • Maybe. Maybe not.
  • Anyplace is better than here.
  • I’m staying.
  • What?

We all leaned in to discuss our matters so as not to be overheard. Basically, Bobby believed the place on 5th street to be a City bar. Complicating matters, he had an ex who was a City fan. He was sure she’d be there. Further complicating matters, he tried to insist Brett stay with him. Bobby was one of those stubborn and immovable objects when he wanted to be. And he often did.

I got up, went to the bar, paid my tab, and left. If I walked fast, I could definitely catch the other game. Yes, I detested City. Still, I was desperate for good soccer. I was also tipsy and in a bad mood. To my surprise, Brett caught up with me after a few blocks.

  • So, are you now a City fan?
  • I’m a City fan like you’re a Liverpool fan.
  • Oh, I get it, so not at all.
  • Hey, I think Bobby is texting me.
  • So what.
  • So maybe he will come after all.
  • Great. Why didn’t we go to a Spurs bar in the first place?
  • The same reason we didn’t go to a United bar.
  • We should just get brunch like normal people.
  • We’re not normal, though.
  • I don’t blame Bobby for wanting to sit at one place for a spell.
  • Then why did you follow me.
  • You know how Bobby is one on one.
  • Then why’d you go with him to that game in London a few weeks ago?
  • Is that what this is about?
  • What what is about?
  • Dude, are you pissed you didn’t get invited?
  • No.
  • Then what’s up with the anger management failure?

I stopped and stared at Brett. We’d been through this a thousand times. I knew I was a bad fan of Manchester United. Just as sinners still went to mass on Sunday, I should be at a Red Devils bar watching a pisspoor performance and hearing the heated, drunken pro/anti Moyes debate for the thousandth time. Still, an agnostic and a hedonistic atheist were not one in the same.

I didn’t really give too shits about Brett’s trip to London to see Spurs with Bobby. Spurs were Spurs, after all. But, after last season, when Brett had gone with me to United bar after United bar and had toasted to Sir Alex, I came under the impression I’d converted him. I now realized what a fool, or rather, how foolish, I’d been.

We went to the City bar, I ingested another Bloody Mary or two, and Bobby eventually caught up, entering the bar and scanning the crowd with a lost puppy’s eyes. Brett sighed, pretended not to notice, and made no attempt to distinguish us from the crowd. Still, standing at the bar, we were hard to miss. Bobby elbowed through some folks and reached us just in time for me to pay my tab. I pulled out my cellphone and made an excuse about needing to leave.

Outside, the once warm Spring air had taken a turn for the slightly muggy. I checked my inbox. No new pitches. No word on a few invoices where I hadn’t been paid in more than 30 days. The bigger the news organization, the more easily you get lost in an accounts receivable department stack of papers. Inside, the crowd roared and I assumed City scored. I needed a smoke and set off for a nearby 7-Eleven.

PART II

I did not see Brett again until he came back from Miami. I admit I was jealous – he went to see the Liverpool-Manchester United ICC Final. Yes, it was a friendly. And the new Chevrolet kits were an abomination. But still, he got to see Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, and David DeGea in the flesh. He also went with Bobby, which was surprising because neither was a Liverpool or United fan. Or so I thought.

My friend Billy Gordon and I went down to Texas for a long weekend – we’d planned some deep sea fishing at Galveston and were planning on catching the Chivas-AC Milan game in nearby Houston, even though both teams were terrible. There was a Groupon and it was convenient. Then, at the last minute, a friend was able to snatch and offer us some MLS all-star games. After a few calls to a travel agent (yes they still exist), we got some deeply discounted last minute flights to Portland.

I texted Brett to let him know of the change in plans, because he was supposed to catch up with us later. I also posted a status update on my Facebook wall, which Brett liked. Within a few minutes, I got a message from Kohn about said all-star game. He wanted to attend, even though I wasn’t sure he could even spell Bundesliga. He also asked who else was attending.

I had two options. Disconnect from social media, not answer his phone calls, and blow him off. Or, I could gently suggest that we did not have enough tickets. The latter was risky because he could probably snag MLS all-star games from the secondary market. I chose the former and focused on my fishing. Billy and I rented a Pruis at the airport, slowly crawled down I-45 from Hobby towards Galveston, and took in the sights of scenic South Houston.

  • I always had this image of Texas as an armpit. Always hot and sweaty and kinda smelly.
  • Let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly. Hobby isn’t exactly their number one airport.
  • Oh yeah, I forgot BU…
  • Don’t say that. International. Don’t say that name. It’s like Voldemort or Beetlejuice.
  • Beetle-what?
  • Forget it.
  • ….
  • So, the 3-5-2. Will it work in the prem?
  • Oooofff. That’s a doozy. Lots of teams have a Cisse-esque striker with pace that can maybe get in behind.
  • Yeah I think it gets more use out of Valencia and Young, but not so sure we need Jones, Smalling, and Evans on the field all at once.
  • That thought also gives me a bit of heartburn.
  • Still, they got a result vs. a good Liverpool side.
  • Fletcher’s been great. Hope his colon or whatever holds up.
  • Me too.

Billy then opened a tall Michelada he’d bought from the gas station. Despite decades of MADD campaigns warning about mixing alcohol and cars, in Texas the gas stations were full of open coolers with ice and individual cans of booze. Granted, as a passenger, Billy had the legal right to hold and ingest alcohol from an open container in a vehicle. As a driver, I did not share this right, but I longed to. My mouth watered. Micheladas were basically Mexican Bloody Maries but in can form.

We finally arrived at Galveston and, to save funds, fished off a few of the piers. We brought our own rods and lines and hooks, and bought various fishes of miniature sizes. All for naught. We didn’t catch a thing over five pounds. We found a dive seafood bar across the road from the beach but with a patio and decent view of the oil sheen-tainted waters. I ordered a Bloody Mary and Billy decided to try some Shiners, a Texas beer.

Then, my cell phone hummed with life. I assumed it was either a warm text-message from a close friend or family or an email from a desperate editor with a deadline. Instead, I saw Bobby’s gchat. He’d scored a ticket to the MLS all-star game, Brett was not returning his texts, and he wanted to know when we were getting into Portland and where we were staying. I sighed and finished my Bloody Mary, ordering another.

The sun set and we walked along the beach, sipping bottled water and sobering up. We then drove up I-45 to some shabby hotel near Hobby. Our flight to Portland, after changing planes in Austin, left at the ass crack of dawn.

+++

Upon arriving in Portland, Billy and I separated. He had a friend at Lewis & Clark that was lending him a couch; I found a spot on airBnB that had room for two (Brett and I), and possibly three if that cunt Bobby insisted. It was a one bedroom flat in Brooklyn, Portland. I laughed to myself. Overpriced real estate thou has a name!

I took a cab, arrived around 11am, got the keys, and unpacked. We’d shipped our fishing gear back to New York and I only had shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. Portland was cold as compared to Texas (and even New York), so caught a cab to West End and bought a fleece, a pair of khaki pants, and some Nike running shoes. I couldn’t find a pub that wasn’t also a cafe, so I caught a cab to The Horse Brass, based on Yelp recs, ate a late English breakfast, and debated whether to start on a Guinness parade early or stick to my customary Bloody Maries.

Before I could order, my cellphone awoke from its slumber. It was Brett. He’d just arrived, with Bobby in tow. I gave the barista my credit card, explained the situation, and caught a cab to the loft. Brett and Bobby arrived shortly thereafter, Brett unpleasantly annoyed and Bobby as clingy and needy as ever. He sensed he was uninvited, which he was.

They dropped off their small carry-on suitcases in what passed for a living room and then we went back to The Horse Brass. Red and white Deutsche Telekom jerseys had taken over the bar in my absence. Sprinkled about were US jerseys, random Latin American national team kits, and a San Jose Clash Landon Donovan jersey that I absolutely had to have. I had dreamed of seeing such a kit on Ebay, and awoken to sticky sheets.

The owner of said kit, a skinny and short 40-something Anglo-Saxon with overgrown facial hair, a pierced ear, black cap, and glasses, proved a consummate gentleman and knowledgeable fan. We invited him to our table and a drink, where he mostly kept to himself as we bitched among ourselves as only friends can. Brett did try to include him in the conversation, if only to avoid speaking with Bobby. He failed in that regards. Music played in the background and the bar’s confines allowed each and every conversation to float about, reverberate, and then seep into one another.

  • How was the fishing?
  • It was pretty miserable.
  • Where is Billy anyways?
  • Either Chelsea or City.
  • We didn’t catch anything worth a damn.
  • Not really expecting much of a game.
  • Why are you always so stiff Bobby?
  • I’ll be the one you won’t forget
  • Where are you from?
  • I can only imagine the flight. Sheesh.
  • So how about those Red Devils?
  • Of course their playing that song, this is a Timbers army bar.
  • I don’t think they’ll overuse Aguero and Negredo again, I know so.
  • Munich in midseason and with their starters would toast the MLS all-stars.
  • Order me another round, homie.
  • Where are you guys sitting? Is it near the field?
  • I just don’t get how Michael Carrick doesn’t get on the plane.
  • What time does the game actually start?
  • Jake, sit down. Don’t get pissed. Your face is redder than a Bloody Mary!
  • Costa to Chelsea, it’s almost not fair.
  • He bloody coked it up, that’s how.
  • One more shot, another round.

Billy finally arrived, donning a United jersey with Cole on the back. He ignored a few glares from possible ex-pats, most likely drunk, and immediately ordered a HUB Lager. Our new friend with excellent taste in early 2000 MLS jerseys excused himself politely. The bar soon grew packed and, after a lunch of fish and chips, we exited to catch a cab to Providence Park.

The game was wholly unremarkable, but for the seats we scored. Up close, you really can see the difference in Donovan’s widow peak. There were no gray hairs on that head, but the peaks had grown considerably in width. The MLS players were noticeably fitter and a bit sharper in terms of first touch and movement, but the decision-making still lacked. A few tackles were chippy, but nothing to write home about.

After the game, festivities continued around Providence Park and we followed the crowd to pub after pub. Still, I was a bit tired of all the Fiesta-ing. While seated at one such establishment’s patio, my silenced cell phone softly hummed in my pocket. I excused myself to go to the restroom, as was customary at the time and considered polite, and checked my messages while sitting on the shitter with my pants around my ankles. An editor at GOAL wanted about 600 words on Landon Donovan.

PART III

In the morning it was all over. I don’t really recall or care to recall all the details of the rest of the Portland trip. I know that, sans laptop, I downloaded an app for my phone to transcribe my voice and tried to write a Donovan piece which was ultimately shelved. I also know that we drank well into the night. Billy suggested a drinking game where we all took a shot every time we saw an Anglo Saxon with overgrown facial hair. After 10 minutes, we altered the rules to a sip of beer in order to prevent death by excessive alcohol ingestion. After 30 minutes, the rule was again amended to only include beards over 8 inches in length.

I blacked out for the rest of the night, but am told a good time was had by all. A cursory review of pictures on social media sites such as Facebook confirmed the general consensus. I arrived back in New York the next day, around 3pm, and caught the subway from JFK into Manhattan. I ate lunch with a friend who knew nothing of the joys and lows and wonders of soccer. I ate Bucatini with basil tomatoes and Garlic marinara sauce, she ordered Fedelini with Pesto.

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