Thank you for your condolences.
From August through sometime in late fall or early winter (whenever the last hopes of a winning season are finally dashed for good), Bills football is an awkward intruder in my life, an uninspired, demanding, self-centered ne’er-do-well of a sister wife who hogs the TV and radio and interferes in all of my plans. Nick sees it differently. They have their own special language and traditions, he and this bloated interloper; he loves her with blind faith, worships her with a degree of ecstasy usually reserved for the deeply religious or clinically insane, and is at best baffled by my cries that their relationship makes no goddamned sense whatsoever.
As such manipulative beasts are wont to do, my sister wife periodically makes a superficial attempt to do something for the rest of us, a little, halfhearted whatever designed to fool us into thinking she cares about us as much as she demands we care about her. That something is the Bills’ annual Kids Night.
I don’t have to go but I do, because I know that the kids won’t see this event as the transparently-veiled brand imprinting that it really is. They’ll think it’s great. They’ll have fun, and I want to be there so that in 20 years their memories of me aren’t solely of the clean-up-your-crap-and-do-your-schoolwork-and-stop-yelling-in-the-house-and-don’t-put-that-in-your-mouth variety.
Before we’ve even gotten into the car, I’m aware that things have shifted. At some point early Saturday, we crossed over into Football – not the event, but the culture – and I’m confused. If I go to Canada, there’s a clear boundary line, a point at which I have to state who I am and that I’m American and aware that henceforth, bacon will be weird and money something out of a Warner Bros cartoon. Alice fell down the rabbit hole, Dorothy rode out the twister, and Borat took a plane. It’s only fair that culture shock be preceded by an intermediary step, a point at which you can take a deep breath and prepare for the bizarro world that awaits you.
I had none of that. One moment, the world made sense. The next, it didn’t.
“Wait… what time is the game?”
Nick is annoyed with me; he’s already answered this. “Seven o’clock.”
“So, why are we packing up the car now?” I ask.
“To get a good parking spot. And to tailgate. And because it’s just what you do.”
Well, it’s sure as hell not what I do. When I go see a theatrical production, I don’t sit in the parking lot for four hours ahead of time, drinking wine and listening to the Rent soundtrack on the radio. But, okay. I can be a team player.
I’m put in charge of the parking pass, which turns out to be a mistake.
“Wait…” I say. “These lots are assigned or something.”
“What? No, they’re not.”
“Yes, they are!” I insist. “I’m looking at the lot map. Look here… This is a Rav4 lot, and this is a Camry lot, and this is a Land Cruiser lot. These are all Toyotas! Where are we supposed to park in a Kia Sedona?”
“Oh, that’s nothing. It’s just because one of the sponsors is a Toyota dealership.”
“Nuh-uh. Look,” I say. “This says, “bus lot.” That means it’s for buses, right?”
“And here – “limousine lot.” That’s for limos.”
I’m baffled. So? But before I can say anything we’re being waved into the “Sequoia” lot, proving that Nick is correct and in Football, signs are utterly meaningless and intended only to confuse the sober and literate.
We park next to a bunch of other non-Sequoia vehicles, around which people have set up grills, chairs, and table games. It’s hot and loud and smells like body odor and exhaust. I wonder if the Toyota dealership knows that their Sequoia lot isn’t paved, but rather made out of crushed rock topped off with a thin layer of broken glass and pride. Nick has packed lawn chairs but the kids and I huddle on the flattened third row of the van instead, preferring to stay in the shade.
“Why are all these people here?” Isabel asks.
“Tailgating,” I say, trying out the new word.
Fuck if I know, I want to say. “I think they want to be sure to get a good parking spot, so they get here early and then just try to make the best of it.”
By the way Nick is laughing into his ham sandwich and shaking his head, I gather that this isn’t the right answer. He doesn’t correct me, though, so I assume that he doesn’t actually know the real answer, either.
Nick lures the kids out of the van and they all throw a football at each other for a while. The game is interrupted frequently by passing cars because, surprise! We’re in a parking lot. Based on the complaints I overhear around us, this is new information for pretty much everyone in the vicinity, and I’m awed to realize that the rest of these non-Sequoia vehicles, clearly, arrived in these spots by way of magic or transporter beam.
A million years later it’s 4:00 and the kids are bored and whiny, so we set off to check out the “Kids Night” activities, walking on a designated area marked by this:
Which means, I assume, “Do the Running Man here.”
We push through a wall of people and enter a fairway of sorts. Two women are dancing to blaring music, doing the “Bills Shuffle” next to a pre-teen boy who looks like he wants to die. Someone dressed up as a cow is meandering through the crowd; the connection to football is unclear.
We all learn exactly where to hurl a ball in order to cause death by way of heart attack:
And play a fun game called “40 kids hula hooping in the shadow of a small van,” where Aidan gets whacked in the eye and Isabel nearly decapitates about a dozen shorties, before they all figure out to take a few big steps back.
Then we wait in this line:
To the soundtrack of Isabel saying every .7 seconds – with the precise same inflection and tone every single time, like Bill Murray in a microcosmic version of Goundhog Day – “Wow, we sure have been waiting in this line for a long time,” all in order to go down this slide:
We walk through a small RV, a choice made all the more nonsensical by how very long we waited for the pleasure, on account of the Coors Light poster family in front of us who seemingly thought they were moving in.
By this time we’ve
wasted spent so much time waiting in lines, the gates are about to open. We go in and then up, up, up to our seats.
Hot dogs are $1 and giant buckets of Coke are $2, but the tiny bottles of water are $4.50. I discover that seating assignments are fairly optional up in these far reaches of the stadium when Nick is not sufficiently concerned by my discovery that our seats are not all together, and I ask, “Help me out here, exactly which one of the children is going to sit by themselves?”
Which, I will admit, was probably a bit snarkier than was strictly necessary.
But no, it seems that virtually no one sits where they’re supposed to here. In front of me, a sasquatch in a wife beater is on his cell phone with someone in a different, marginally better section, a sausage sandwich-bearing hand waving in the air for a solid 10 minutes, waiting to be found and invited to squat in someone else’s seat. A father with three teenaged sons is displaced about four times as rightful seat owners happen along; every time they simply move over to the next set of open seats. No one bats an eye; this is one more rule of Football that everyone else seems to understand but defies everything I’ve ever understood to be correct.
15 minutes goes on the clock, and the first quarter starts. Aidan asks what’s going on. “See those guys?” I say. “They have the ball, and they have four turns to try to move it from the “50” line to the “40” line.” Nick’s eyes are wide; he’s impressed.
He doesn’t know I googled this while he was spending twenty fucking dollars on water.
An hour later, we’re still waiting for those 15 minutes to wrap up. I do the math and realize that at this rate, we’re on track to be sitting here, in front of a living megaphone who is repeatedly screaming, “DEEEEEEFEEEEEENSE!” into my ear, for at least four hours.
Oh, hell no.
I have been a good sport. And now I am done.
It helps that, the Bills? Suck. Hard. I don’t know Football, and I’m deep in the midst of feeling the pain of that ignorance, but I’m pretty sure that the purpose of throwing the ball is to have someone catch it. I’ve had my ass kicked at monkey in the middle enough to know that flailing a ball at random places where no teammates are standing doesn’t exactly endorse you as jock material. In the second quarter, one of our players runs for the ball and, for no apparent reason at all, simply crumples onto the field like a Victorian lady on a hot day. “That’ll teach him to wear his high heels on the field,” I murmur to Nick. What I really want to say is, “Someone should tell him that coaches will often excuse girls when they have their periods,” but I keep my crassest, most politically-incorrect jokes to myself while in public.
Past 9:00, it’s finally halftime. We are all ready to go except Aidan, who fully intends to sit on his hard bleacher seat until the fireworks display, even if it takes until next Sunday. Nick has a moment of brilliance: “How about if we go get ice cream?”
I love him.
And that’s how it ended up being a good idea to break another rule that I would have thought hard and fast at 9:30 at night:
Hallelujah, it’s over.