The Weekend Of Our Discontent, Part I
New York City. The Big Apple. Gotham. The city that never sleeps. On Friday I woke up ready to make my first trip to what is, to me, a mythical place. I was keyed up. I was also excited to attend the NFL Draft, an event much-beloved by myself and sports-crazy losers of all stripes. I was killing two metaphorical birds with one stone, as it were. Always wanted to see the Draft, always wanted to see New York, and now I'd accomplish both goals. Throw in the fact that we'd be staying with a friend I hadn't seen in like 2 years, and I had a trifecta of reasons to be geeked.
But first I had some mundane details to attend to. Our refrigerator has been on the fritz for about a month, and our new one was due to be delivered Friday morning. My wife was highly excited about the new appliance, and I too was looking forward to non-soupy ice cream and eating ground meat with little or no fear of botulism. The guys brought the new one and took away the old one around 9AM, and I finished my packing just as Mark showed up. Mark was so wired I thought he might burst into song at any moment. And as Mark is the Worst Singer in the World, I wanted to nip that in the bud. Our friend Scott at one point thought about coming up from Baltimore and joining us at the Draft, and as Scott is the Worst Singer in the Galaxy I might have been in serious trouble, but Scott bailed on us and so it was just Mark and I heading east toward our destiny.
"I'm going to a conference in Cancun next week," Dr. Mark said, "and I'm not even vaguely excited about it. But I've been waiting for this for three months". This gives you some idea of how profoundly sick Mark is.
Mark and I have known each other since high school. We roomed together in college for 4 years. We live 5 minutes apart. We're sick to death of each other. So what the hell are we going to talk about for 7 goddam hours in the car? Why, the draft of course! "I'd be happy if we get one of the three quarterbacks, one of the top two corners, or Winslow or Taylor," Mark says. "I can't see how we wouldn't end up with one of those seven guys."
"Well," I say "if the Giants trade up and take Manning, and the Raiders take Roy Williams, and Arizona takes Fitzgerald, and the Chargers trade down so the Browns can take Gallery...and then San Diego takes Rivers at 7..."
"Then Buffalo trades up for Roethlesburger..." Mark says, continuing the thread. "Yeah, we'd be screwed, because Hall will go to the Falcons and Robinson goes to the Texans".
We spent a few hours discussing bizarre permutations and scenarios that, alternately, end with the Steelers drafting Rivers, Roethlesberger, Shawn Andrews, Robert Gallery, Roy Williams, and I think at one point we swung a three-way trade involving Plaxico Burress, Tim Couch, and a six-pack of warm beer. We both wanted the Steelers to take a QB, with Rivers being the first choice and Big Ben second. But as the hours dragged on, and we hit a stretch of I-80 where we could get no sports radio station, the fatigue of the last few days caught up to me and I dozed a bit. I knew the next day would be trying, what with a 4AM wakeup call and a long, long wait for tickets. I needed to gather my strength.
To fortify ourselves we stopped at a Friendly's restaurant somewhere in the northeast quadrant of Pennsylvania. Friendly's is you typical family-style chain restaurant, renowned for its ice cream. Mark has a sweet tooth so we picked it over a local "Country Kitchen" joint that adverstised "Ham Pot Pie" as it's specialty.
"Ham pot pie?" Mark asked dubiously. "That sounds gross."
"That sounds like, 'We have 30 pounds of leftover ham from Sunday brunch and it's going bad fast'," I agreed. But as we walked up to Friendly's were were confronted with a sign on the door that read, "Welcome to Melt City!". Melt City? OK, the place also specializes in serving "melts", you know, sandwiches with cheese that are heated up until the whole thing is gooey. Fine. But, do I really want to eat in a place whose contribution to American cuisine is applying heat to food until it liquifies? Oh well, it sounded better than Ham Pot Pie.
And it was. We both got the Frisco Melt, which was a kind of peppery hamburger with cheese on sourdough toast. Very tasty. Fries were crisp and salty. Our meal came with a free sundae, too, and I had hot fudge and enjoyed it to the fullest. While we were eating a hillbilly girl of about 17 walked in wearing a bluejean miniskirt cut so high up her thigh it was practically a belt. Pleased that sexual mores among our young people have slipped so far even out her in the boonies, we headed out to continue our quest. "You are now leaving Melt City!" the sign on the door read, and I was glad of it. I was going to New York City, rather a trade up I think from Melt City.
If there was a theme for my weekend, it would be that the whole experience could be described as a series of cliches alternately confirmed and exploded. For example, there is a cliche that pregnant women give off a glow from the life blossoming within their, uh, womanly parts, and as our friend Ro greeted us at the door she in fact confirmed that old adage. She was positively radiant and lovely and had a belly like, well, me after a chicken wing bender. One disadvantage of having a doctor as a friend is that they constantly make you look stupid with their expertise. I said something along the lines of, "Wow, uh, everything going, uh, good?" and Mark said something like, "Are you sleeping on your side, or is the baby still high enough that it doesn't cause problems for your bladder?". Damn, I should've thought to ask that...
We met Ro's husband Eyal and went to dinner at a steak place down the road called "Mighty Joe Young". Why the proprietor decided to name his restaurant after a B-movie about a big gorilla is a bit beyond my depth. Maybe they also have places called "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and "The Blob". Come to think of it, name a restaurant after "The Blob" and a sign reading "Welcome to Melt City" would make a lot of sense. Anyway, hanging over the front door was what looked like the front half of a whole goddam rhinocerous. It was about as big as a Honda Civic. There were other taxidermalogical exhibits inside, but I was hungry and concentrated on the food, which was excellent. The garlic spinich particularly impressed.
Afterwards Ro took us to visit the Jewish private school where she works, which is bordered by a public high school on one side and fronted by an all-girls Catholic high school across the road. Three high schools, all within 100 feet of each other, different cultures and religions thrown together...I was humming songs from "West Side Story" all the way home.
We turned in, because we'd be waking up REALLY early. When we lived together Mark entertained me by talking in his sleep just about every night for four fucking years, but I was too beat to care if he started singing "I Feel Pretty". I got comfy, closed my eyes...and then the bastard was kicking my feet.
"Get up," he said, proving once again that bedside manner should be emphasized more in medical school. "It's 4:17".
I staggered to the shower, and once the hot spray hit me I perked up. New York City. The Draft. I was tired but I knew adrenaline would carry me much of the day. We had directions from Eyal, but I wasn't exactly confident we knew where we were going. It was cool outside but not cold, so I put on a long-sleeve T-shirt and my Jerome Bettis jersey. I was ready for action.
Mark said, "I'm leaving my wallet here. I'm just taking cash, my credit card and ID."
"Good idea," I said, pulling lettuce out of my wallet and stuffing it in my pocket.
"And my medical card," Mark said.
I froze. "Yeah, I should take that." I pulled it out and stuck it in my other pocket. I looked up and Mark said with much gravitas, "My blood type is O-positive."
I nodded. "I'm O-negative."
We looked at each other a long time--and cracked up. Here we were going to one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth and we were acting like we were going clubbing in Fallujah. We tiptoed downstairs, got in the car, and headed for the Draft.
We made it to FDR Drive no problem and found the garage where, the day before, we'd reserved a spot for a very reasonable price. An NYC cliche disproved--parking is impossible and incredibly expensive. $25 for the whole day was OK even for a Pittsburgher. The guy at the lot gave me the ticket and told us how to get the Madison Square Garden. And before I knew it I was walking around in New York City, heading for MSG. In the home stretch, heading toward the finish line...where we'd then stand in the gate again for about 3 hours.
New York City, I found, is much like any other city at 5AM--dark. But there were still a few hardy souls out that early, folks going to work, touristy types walking to God knows where with little kids, and a few guys wearing football jerseys like us. We passed two guys, one wearing a Houston Texans jersey, walking in the opposite direction. This struck me as odd. He should have been going in the other direction. But I put it out of my mind and we pressed on. In the distance we could see a few jersied folks tossing a football back and forth in the broad lobby leading to the front entrance. "We're here," Mark said, almost giddy. Actually, not almost--he was giddy. I was giddy. I was at the Draft. I was in the greatest city on Earth. I was in love with the world.
There was a wide, broad covered space leading up to the front gate with square pillars, and on these pillars, I saw, were taped salmon-colored sheets of paper with writing on them. I walked closer to one of the flyers as Mark pressed on. The typeface was what I would call 10-point Timid. I had to walk up really close to read it. And here's what the flyers said:
"ALL NFL DRAFT TICKETS HAVE BEEN DISTRIBUTED"
I froze. Mark walked over. He read. We looked at each other. Neither of us could speak. Until I said, "What the fuck?"
"I do not believe this," Mark said.
"What the FUCK?" I asked again.
We went over to one of the Giant-jersey wearing guy playing catch and asked, in essence, what the fuck? He said, "They gave away wristbands last night around midnight," and showed off the purple band around his wrist.
We marched up to the entrance, ready to do murder. There were two guys standing behind a low metal barricade with their hands stuffed into their windbreakers. Mark and I were hardly the only angry folks gathered 'round. Mark got to the head of the line and we heard the beefier of the two guys say, "Sorry, if you don't have a ticket, you don't get in."
Mark said, "We called the NFL offices. We called the box office. I had someone actually walk up to the box office last night and ask if we'd get in if we showed up at 6AM, and they said no problem."
And the beefy guy shrugged in classic New York fashion and said, "Well, the box office fucked up!"
A woman came over with slips of paper and everyone started crowding around her. "Back up!" she said, "this is just an explanation of what happened!". We withdrew and read the official MSG and NFL reasoning, which we learned from the box office people that, basically, the NFL fucked over their fans. "We have 4000 seats in there," the one guy said. "And the NFL came in and blocked off a big piece for the media, and ESPN blocked off a big section for their people, and when they were done they only gave the box office 440 tickets."
I was livid. Mark was beyond livid. We talked to some fellow Steeler fans walking up to the gate and when we told them the news they were livid. "You're shittin' me," was an exact quote. About 200 fans were now gathered, none of them in a good mood. We heard that one guy had flown in from Denver for the draft. Another guy came in from Vegas. Mark and I had driven seven hours to in effect be told that rabid, diehard fans like ourselves were no longer needed, thank you. The NFL and ESPN are big enough that they're free to casually fuck over their best customers, because we'll just come back for more. The Draft became a huge event because the fans made it that way. Now it's big enough that the NFL and ESPN don't need us anymore. There are enough fatcats and suits to make up the muster and the fans who really care are, well, in the way.
Mark and I wandered back to the plaza. We talked to some other fans, and then Mark said, "Well, what do you want to do?"
I didn't have a ready answer. Then I said, "Well, you said you wanted to get satellite radio. Go to Circuit City, get it hooked up, and listen to the Draft driving home."
We might actually have done that if we hadn't left our clothes and stuff at Ro's. It seemed rude to come all this way and then call her from Bellefonte asking her to FedEx us our clothes. We stood there a few more minutes, watching blissfully ignorant fans walk past by the score. I sort of wanted to stay there to see if a full-blown riot broke out, maybe even throw a rock or two.
A homeless woman sat down on the steps next to us, and after a minute or so she ltook a breath and let out a long, "AAAAAAaaaaaaaOOOOOOOhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!". It wasn't a scream, or a shout, it was just a long, mournful noise. I said, "That's exactly how I feel."
We walked, vaguely toward our garage, but mostly just straight. We'd planned on eating breakfast, but we weren't hungry. I'd not wanted to eat at a McDonalds in New York City, but even as we passed bagel shops and delis and the kinds of bodegas that are always getting robbed on NYPD Blue
my appetite stayed dormant. I felt even more like a complete loser than usual. Here I was, in New York City, thinking about bailing and heading home with my tail between my legs because I'd been screwed by the NFL. I felt ashamed for being so pissed off about such a trivial thing. I felt naive for being pissed off about getting fucked over by a big corporation. I wanted to see the Draft. I wanted to stay in New York. But what should we do?
We found that our wanderings had taken us to Times Square, which I guess isn't quite as impressive at 6AM as it is at midnight on New Year's Eve. It was nearly deserted, and dominated by about a 30-foot tall Revlon billboard. Julianne Moore was one of the four gorgeous women on the billboard, the obligatory redhead, and as a 30-foot tall Julianne Moore is one of my recurring nice dreams I took it as a sign that this sign was, uh, a good sign.
"Well, there's the ESPN SportsZone," Mark said. "We could watch it there."
Giving my money to the very folks who just screwed me seemed a poor choice. But it also seemed the only choice. How many other sports bars are there in Manhattan. I know, there are probably a bunch. But I don't know where they are, and anyway, ESPN's place would probably be the best place to watch it. We wandered over to where there were a handful of guys in jerseys and sweatshirts waiting outside the front door. We exchanged commiserations about our mutual screwing, and learned that they were from upstate New York and they'd come to town both for the Draft and to see the Yankee-Red Sox game the next day.
"So," Mark said, asking the question on both our minds, "what time does this place open?"
One of our compatriots said, "11AM."
It was about 6:30. Mark and I looked at each other. Did we really want to wait four and a half hours to get into a sports bar? The answer was, well, no. But were we WILLING to wait four and a half hours to get into a sports bar? Hey, we'd driven seven hours, what was a few hours more?
We also had one last-gasp chance to get into the Draft. We have a friend named Tammy who works for a company that dispatches the trucks that carry the heavy equipment for the networks--cameras, cables, stages, that sorta stuff. Mark thought that she might have a way to get us in, but he didn't want to call her until a decent hour--like, seven. So standing in line and looking at a 30-foot billboard of Chris Rock screaming down at us seemed a good way to kill the time.
"You know," Mark said, "when you think about it, we're really just wasting, oh, fourteen hours of our lives."
"Thanks," I said. "When I'm on my deathbed that'll be such a comfort. Then again, we could have spent that time watching Jersey Girl
eight times back to back."
Mark's a huge Kevin Smith fan and he thought JG
was about the worst movie he's ever seen. He shuddered. "This is much better".
Mark went around the corner and made the call. We didn't want everyone around us to know that we might have a coolguy way of getting in. But when he came back a few minutes later I knew the in wasn't in. "Without media passes we can't get in," Mark explained. "Security's too tight."
"So, once again, the terrorists win." He nodded.
I made many big decisions that weekend in Manhattan, and none was wiser or more prescient than my decision not to drink a lot of liquids that morning. I have a very efficient urinary system--water goes in, water comes out. It's one of my best features. And as I realized that we'd probably be waiting in line for a very, very, very long time, I'd almost certainly need to take a leak before too long. But perhaps the humidity was very low, because I didn't have to go. Thank God for small favors, because we didn't get many big ones. Well, it wasn't too cold, except when the wind was blowing. Thing is, it always WAS blowing. After standing in place for a few hours my hamstrings and calves started to doze, and at one point I thought I was going to throw a full-leg cramp. Not very manly, but you don't think to stretch before standing still for four hours in the cold. Let that be a lesson to us all.
One good thing that came of the long wait was that we met a bunch of good people in line. We met Jet fans and Giant fans and Eagle fans and Redskin fans and Patriot fans and Bronco fans and Raider fans and, of course, Steeler fans. Lots of Black and Gold to be seen on the streets, and glad was I to see it. One guy wearing a #14 Redskin jersey came up to us at the front of the line and asked when the place opened, and he was the spitting image of Brad Johnson. A relative? A bastard son?
From time to time groups of jersied guys would walk past us, obviously heading toward the Garden. We didn't tell them they'd be coming back to join us very soon. A guy with a #5 Giants jersey, the name "Collins" covered with masking tape and "Manning" written in its place jogged by with about 10 other guys and taunted us as they crossed the street. "Yeah, good luck, buddy," I said. "You'll be saying 'whathafuck' in about ten minutes. And I'm gonna laugh."
A gentleman at the head of the line was wearing a white T-shirt with a picture of USC cornerback Will Poole emblazoned on the front. Said gentleman was, in fact, Will Poole's father, looking forward to seeing his progeny become the latest NFL millionaire. Before the draft Poole was expected to be a second-round pick, but his exhuberant father fully expected him to go in Round One. This may, in retrospect, have been a bit optimistic. Poole was saddled with the dreaded "character issues", said issues prompting him to transfer from Boston College to USC. He also didn't run a sparkling 40-yard time, and as any draftnik knows nothing ruins careers like a lumbering 4.63 40-yard dash.
As the dawn turned to day, more and more people turned up to join the celebration. I didn't much mind, since I knew I had a seat waiting for me inside, but Mark, with his annoying sense of fair play, didn't like about 20 people cutting in line ahead of us just because one person had been waiting. I was actually too exhausted and wasted to really muster up much outrage.
I was even too tired to muster up much excitement when the woman got clipped by the cab right in front of us. So far as I could tell, the woman walked out in front of the cab and it clipped her. I didn't see it, though I heard the brief squeal of tires and a sort of THUMP! Now, THIS was New York City! The woman was on the ground, and the cabby didn't even get out as she struggled to get to her feet. Mark's a doctor, so he edged closer to get a better look, in case his services were needed, but in the end she got up, brushed off her backside, and jogged across the street.
Time dragged, and dragged, and dragged. Mark had to take a leak and went off looking for a legal place to perfom the deed. By this time people were showing up for work and going into the bar and I had a moment of terror that they would open early and let everyone on in while Mark was staggering around Mulberry Street desperately looking for a water closet. If it came to that I decided that it was every man for himself and I was going in. But he returned in about 40 minutes, leaving us just, oh, two hours more to wait.
We got to talking to the group of guys behind us. One of them is a Rams fan, and he said that he was wearing a jersey he bought on draft day a few years ago. "Who's jersey?" Mark asked.
"Lawrence Phillips," he said, evoking the name of the former Nebraska running back who had a wee problem with drinking and beating up his girlfriends, if such a problem could ever be called "wee". Wearing the jersey of an all-time bust is the kind of contextual joke only we draftniks can truly appreciate. "If you're actually wearing a Phillips jersey, I'll buy you a beer," Mark said, and he yanked up his windbreaker to show the #21.
"That's sick," I said as a compliment, and Mark assured him he'd hold up his end of the bargain once we got inside.
Which was finally about to happen. It was full daylight now, a brilliant blue sky overhead. We were next to a building that had a steeply sloped sign that read "Ernst & Young" in red neon letters. To prove that I wasn't operation on all cylinders, although I was in the financial capital of the world, I found myself thinking, "Hmm, Ernst & Young has an office in New York. That's interesting". Yeesh.
Eleven o'clock approached. Word reached us that, around the corner, Jessica Simpson and Boy George were in some store promoting some perfume or something. Some loser in a Giants jersey said, "Hey, Jessica Simpson is around the corner", trying to tempt us out of our spot in line. "I wouldn't care if Jessica Simpson was giving it up for five bucks a ride," I snarled. The line, I learned, went all the way down the block, around the corner, and then all the way down THAT block. At least I knew I'd get in. What about those goofy bastards who didn't know if they'd even get in to the SportsZone?
We could look inside the windows and see that the assembled employees were ready for a full assault. They all had their 2004 Draft T-shirts and they were handing signs and no doubt were chilling beer and frying wings in anticipation to some really hungry and thirsty losers. And hungry and thirsty we were. Well, I was, anyway.
We heard that the cops had arrived at MSG to disburse what was a very unhappy crowd outside the gates. I was a bit sad that I missed it, because as a reporter a little mayhem makes for a better story. But for a time I thought I might see another riot, and maybe even be right in the thick of it. A big group of people suddenly gathered around the entranceway, and I didn't like it. I liked it even less when the doors opened and these people, who'd showed up just five minutes earlier, we let in like they were royalty. Fearing that I was about to get screwed by ESPN for the second time I joined in the chorus of "Hey! HEY!!!". I was looking for a rock to throw or a handy brick. If we'd gotten shut out again I was seriously going to go apeshit. I mean, I would've thrown something through a window, kicked the dude at the door in the nuts, and grabbed all the free keychains my pockets would hold. Maybe taken one of the bastards cutting in line hostage. Haven't done that in awhile.
Well, turns out that the VIPs were a big contingent of athletes from Gonzaga who were...going to the ESPN SportsZone? Hey, at least I had a reason to go there--I'm a loser watching the draft. But why would about 50 random jocks (did you know Gonzaga had a swim team? If so, why did you?) travel from Washington State to New York City and spend even a SECOND in a corporate-owned sports bar?
Anyway, they got in. And then, dear readers, so did I. And since this is about 2000 words long already and the draft has been over for like 2 weeks already, I will stop here, post it, and then finish the rest tomorrow. The part where we actually watched the draft and stuff.